Durham County

Durham City Council rejects 'militarization of our police force.' Chief says no to Israeli training

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Flag of Israel

The Durham City Council went on record Thursday opposing military-style training by foreign governments for local police.

"The council opposes international exchanges with any country in which Durham officers receive military-style training since such exchanges do not support the kind of policing we want here in the City of Durham," according to the statement released at Thursday's council work session.

The statement came in response to a petition calling on the city to cut any police ties with Israel. Council members will discuss it at their next regular meeting, Monday, April 16, when Mayor Steve Schewel, who wrote it, said that the public can comment on it.

"We recognize and share the deep concern about militarization of police forces around the country. We know that racial profiling and its subsequent harms to communities of color have plagued policing in our nation and in our own community," the statement says.

The statement also includes a quote from Durham Police Chief C.J. Davis: "There has been no effort while I have served as chief of police to initiate or participate in any exchange to Israel, nor do I have any intention to do so."

The statement adds: "Black lives matter. We can make that phrase real in Durham by rejecting the militarization of our police force in favor of a different kind of policing, and that is what we are doing in Durham now."

The Triangle chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace and other groups started circulating a "Demilitarize from Durham2Palestine" petition in October. It has more than 1,200 signatures but does not show if those who signed are from Durham or not. Other groups in the coalition are the Abrahamic Initiative on the Middle East, Black Youth Project 100 - Durham Chapter, Durham for All, Inside Outside Alliance, Muslim American Public Affairs Council, Muslims for Social Justice, SpiritHouse, Students for Justice in Palestine at Duke University and Students for Justice in Palestine at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Rabbis opposed

Seven Triangle rabbis signed a letter urging the Durham City Council to reject the petition.

Their letter calls the petition biased and bad policy for Durham and its police department. It was signed by Rabbi Larry Bach of Judea Reform Congregation; Rabbi Zalman Bluming of Chabad of Durham and Chapel Hill; Rabbi Daniel Greyber, Rabbi Jerry Fox and Rabbi Steven Sager of Beth El Synagogue; Rabbi Lucy Dinner of Temple Beth Or and Rabbi Eric Solomon of Beth Meyer Synagogue.

In a memo, Davis told City Manager Tom Bonfield her own training experience in Israel "had nothing to do with terrorism tactics, military tactics, or the use of or exposure to, military equipment."

Davis said her previous visit was "based on developing leadership academies, leadership principles, and the challenges experienced with building community and police relations with the growing homeless population in the U.S., comparable to Sudanese populations in Israel."

Mayor Pro Tem Jillian Johnson also read a statement Thursday, which she also sent to people who contacted her about the petition.

"It’s important to note that Mayor Schewel’s statement is significantly different from the original petition we received on this issue, which I signed. The original petition from the “Demilitarize Durham to Palestine” campaign included language linking violent policing in the U.S. to tactics of the Israeli police and military," Johnson said.

Johnson said she does not believe that "it is inherently anti-Semitic to criticize Israeli policies and practice, just as I don’t believe it’s anti-American to criticize the practices of the U.S. military and police, which I do often."

"Though I understand that some in our community view a rejection of cooperation with Israel as anti-Semitic, I believe that idea is belied by the fact that our city government and the vast majority of our residents have a strong history of acting in direct opposition to hatred of all forms. Durham has a commitment to inclusion and diversity, and that there is no tolerance for anti-Semitism or any other forms of hate and bias in this city," Johnson said.

Davis said her time leading the Durham Police Department has been focused on building stronger police and community relations in Durham.

Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: 919-419-6563; @dawnbvaughan
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