Midway through a town hall meeting on the campus of North Carolina Central University on Monday night, Larry “Face” Walton walked out of the auditorium and looked over a series of questions he had wanted to ask the panelists.
The panel included Triangle law enforcement leaders, community activists and clergy members who sat on a first-floor stage at the school’s education building, where they fielded questions about community policing from a predominantly African-American audience of both Raleigh and Durham residents.
But the topics that Walton – a former Bloods gang leader who last month helped organize a truce among nearly a half-dozen Raleigh street gangs – wanted to discuss were not mentioned. He and other former leaders of the Crips, Folk, 52hoovers and 74hoovers traveled to Durham on Monday to participate in the town hall meeting and to start laying the groundwork for a proposed truce to end violence among gangs in the Bull City.
Instead, the two-hour meeting which was live-streamed on Facebook included a brief history of community policing in Raleigh by the city’s Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown, assurances from her Durham counterpart Chief Cerelyn Davis that officials intended utilize data which might help identify poor policing, black-on-black crime, communication between police and residents, and the need for independent civilian review boards.
Deck-Brown said community policing in Raleigh first began in the late 1980s and that the initiative in the state’s capital city has “evolved over time,” with a number of changes, including the placing of police substations throughout the city. Still, she too emphasized the importance of communication between the police and community.
“One thing that cannot change is the dialogue between the police and the community,” she said.
After the town hall ended, Walton stood and asked several of the questions still most pressing on his mind. Chief among his concerns: How can police and residents of the region’s most embattled neighborhoods work as partners when they view one another with distrust and fear?
“How can the cops help us when most people in the community are scared of them?” he asked.
Chief Davis came to Durham about two months ago following the eight-year tenure of Jose Lopez, the former chief who retired late last year after the city human rights commission concluded racial bias and profiling existed within his department. She said residents throughout the city deserve “the same level of respect” from law enforcement and vowed that her officers would try to be more proactive by relying on data-driven evidence – rather than perception – that could offer “strong truth” to bolster some resident’s concerns.
“We have to look internally first before we can establish trust with the community,” she said.
Walton persisted in his questions. “The Durham chief said, good cops like working with good cops,” he said. “So, then, when cops do something wrong to people, why don’t the good cops correct the cops that are doing bad?”
Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison offered a different perspective: While it’s important for law enforcement and residents to communicate, there’s been a diminishing respect for law enforcement.
“Something is missing, and it starts at home,” he said. “Discipline and values.”
Walton thinks that the onus is on law enforcement to learn how to communicate with the people who live in the neighborhoods the officers are assigned to protect.
“How can a person who doesn’t know how to communicate be a safeguard in the community they serve?” he asked. “When the police feel we’re all one, the world’ll be a better place.”