There are two Raleighs, they said.
There’s one where white people live in comfort and are left alone by law enforcement and one where poor black people regularly endure questionable police tactics, according to some Southeast Raleigh residents.
More than two dozen people showed up to the City Council meeting Tuesday night urging Raleigh to adopt several changes to its police department, from instituting an independent panel that could review controversial police actions to de-emphasizing enforcement of marijuana laws.
Wearing dark shirts and holding signs, residents shared the council chambers with about 30 local tennis advocates who wore brightly-colored T-shirts and asked city leaders for more tennis courts. Many of those asking reforms were affiliated with a group called Raleigh Police Accountability Community Taskforce. PACT believes an independent panel is needed because Raleigh police can’t be trusted to be fair and objective when investigating complaints about their peers, resident Terrence Perry said.
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“There are far too many PACT partners with stories of harassment, use of force and racial profiling that have not found justice with this system to suggest that it’s working,” Perry said.
Residents from Southeast Raleigh called for change shortly after a city police officer, D.C. Twiddy, on Feb. 29 shot and killed 24-year-old Akiel Denkins on Bragg Street after Denkins tried to evade arrest for an outstanding warrant. Raleigh police say the shooting happened during a physical confrontation between the two, a narrative some residents have cast doubt on. Twiddy should have called for backup and tried to detain Denkins peacefully rather than chasing him alone, some have said.
Mayor Nancy McFarlane and other council members have since talked about renewing relations between police and the Southeast Raleigh community and potentially improving police practices. The council in March approved a plan to adorn its officers with body-worn cameras and one councilwoman, Mary-Ann Baldwin, last month called on the city to create a commission that would address poverty and other issues in Southeast Raleigh.
The city will also provide a written response to the activists’ requests by the May 24 council meeting, City Manager Ruffin Hall said Tuesday. But, as residents await further government action, the community’s wounds from the shooting appear to be lingering.
Denkins’ mother, Rolanda Byrd, stood beside Akiba Byrd, a leader of Raleigh PACT, as he addressed the council Tuesday night.
“This mother is standing here before you right now holding a picture of her slain child for no other reason than he was evading arrest. That is not a death sentence,” Akiba Byrd said.
While cities like Chicago and Portland have independent police review boards, Raleigh City Manager Tom McCormick says only the state government can grant subpoena power to such a board in North Carolina. McCormick suggested that council members, if they want change, should review complaints about police themselves or delegate that role to the city attorney or city manager.
Some council members said Tuesday that they want to see McCormick and Hall’s responses to Raleigh PACT and hear more about what state laws allow before taking a position.
“Obviously, we are concerned about having all of our citizens feel comfortable and operating in a way that’s open and transparent,” Councilman Russ Stephenson said.
In the meantime, activists say they hope to continue to educate the community about a police and criminal justice systems that they say are inherently racist. Barbara Smalley-McMahan, an Oakwood resident, talked about the difference in the policing she’s seen in her neighborhood and in Southeast Raleigh. Police recently stayed on the scene for more than two hours to offer support and compassion after her neighbor’s mother went into cardiac arrest, Smalley-McMahan said. Meanwhile, she said she saw most officers stay in their cars as Southeast Raleigh residents left the church after Denkins’ funeral.
“It breaks my heart to see the people that I’ve come to love and care about in South Raleigh not getting the same kind of policing I get,” Smalley-McMahan said.
Residents want more accountability for Raleigh police
A group known as the Raleigh Police Accountability Community Taskforce is asking for the City of Raleigh to adopt eight changes that they say would improve local police practices, which they say are sometimes racist and overbearing. The group’s statement says it is requesting:
1. An independent oversight board that has the power to investigate, subpoena and discipline police when there is injustice.
2. Strengthening of the department’s anti-bias policing police with regular checks on officers’ stop-and-search data.
3. Improvement of officer training and an expansion of Crisis Intervention Training.
4. An end what the group called the bias in stops and searches by requiring written consent-to-search forms.
5. Placing a lower priority on marijuana enforcement.
6. A body-worn camera program that protects people’s rights, privacy and access.
7. An internship program to recruit and retain officers of color.
8. Increased opportunities for positive relationships between community and police.