Barry Saunders

Saunders: Raleigh police show force, not understanding

Raleigh Police Officers confer at the intersection of Branch and Bloodworth Streets on Wednesday April 13, 2016 in Raleigh, N.C., just a few blocks from where Akiel Denkins was killed by Raleigh Police Officer D.C. Twiddy. Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman released a report on the shooting on Wednesday stating that the officer fired his gun in self-defense.
Raleigh Police Officers confer at the intersection of Branch and Bloodworth Streets on Wednesday April 13, 2016 in Raleigh, N.C., just a few blocks from where Akiel Denkins was killed by Raleigh Police Officer D.C. Twiddy. Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman released a report on the shooting on Wednesday stating that the officer fired his gun in self-defense. rwillett@newsobserver.com

Did cops know something the rest of us didn’t?

It looked as though Raleigh police were anticipating trouble, as police cruisers and SUVs lined and patrolled the streets around Bragg Street last Wednesday. That’s the day the Wake County District Attorney announced her decision not to charge Officer D.C. Twiddy in the shooting death of Akiel Denkins.

Sure, protests in the hours after Denkins was shot in February following a foot chase that began on Bragg Street were loud and angry, but there’d been no reports of violence or vandalism. There were even subsequent stories and public statements from police brass praising community leaders for ensuring that protests didn’t get out of hand.

A backhanded compliment, at best – as though residents were incapable of expressing outrage without throwing bricks and Molotov cocktails.

That’s why the show-of-force around Bragg Street was so incongruous with what had preceded D.A. Lorrin Freeman’s announcement that surprised no one, certainly not Rolanda Byrd.

Was Byrd, Denkins’ mother, hurt that the man who killed her son won’t have to explain under oath what happened? Yep.

Disappointed? Certainly.

Angry? You betcha.

Surprised? Not at all, and do you know why?

“Because we’ve seen this before,” she said hours after Freeman’s decision at a vigil at the church in which her son had been eulogized. The only difference, she said, was “this time it just happened to be my son.”

Video: Rolanda Byrd, the mother of Akiel Denkins, responds to Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman’s report that cleared Raleigh Police Officer D.C. Twiddy in Denkins' shooting on Wednesday April 13, 2016 in Raleigh, N.C.

She thanked the community for not being disrespectful and getting “hurt or arrested behind my son. I’m so glad you’ve been acting the way you’ve been acting,” she told the predominately young crowd members. “It’s what they are looking for us to do. That’s why they’ve been sitting on the corner of every block all day long. They’ve been out there all day long and it’s crazy. Why?

“But we’re not going to burn down buildings and police cars like they did in Ferguson. This is Raleigh, and we love Raleigh,” she said. “This is our home. It’s all the home that we have. So, I don’t know what they’re looking for.”

Neither do I, but give me three guesses.

Raleigh top cop Cassandra Deck-Brown has often said she favors community policing, in which officers interact with residents, get to know them as human being and not just as suspects. That was missing after Freeman’s decision, as residents and community leaders noted the increased police presence but no increased interaction. The officers in the cruisers and SUVs parked or cruised past slowly, eyeing residents warily.

By showing up en masse Wednesday, police and city brass sent the implicit message that they expected trouble of a type that had not occurred even as rumors flew in February that Denkins was shot in the back as he fled. They ought to be able to comprehend why some residents felt they were being antagonized, even mocked, by the show of force on standby.

At the least, their presence could be construed as provocative, whether they meant for it to be or not.

VIDEO: SBI report leads DA Lorrin Freeman to file no charges against Raleigh Police Officer D.C. Twiddy in February shooting.

I asked police department spokesman Jim Sughrue if such a visible presence was typical prior to a D.A. decision coming down.

“Frankly and thankfully,” Sughrue said, “we don’t have ‘typical’ examples to follow in Raleigh... (T)here were no particular expectations. The most relevant experience we could draw upon concerned an impromptu, peaceful march that took place from Bragg Street to the court house area on March 1.

“If something similar occurred, we wanted to be able to take safety steps, such as blocking intersections for pedestrian crossings, just as we did for that previous demonstration. When it appeared unlikely there would be a need for such assistance, our presence was scaled back later in the day Wednesday. By (Thursday) morning, only normal patrol activity remained.”

Plausible answer, but residents can be excused for thinking otherwise. I spent several hours in the neighborhood the day Denkins died, and veteran crime-scene watchers and I were baffled that his body was removed and the crime-scene investigation was concluded within four hours. After that, there was no police presence in the community. None.

There ought to be, though, and not just when the department is expecting trouble.

Community policing should mean more than just policing the community, shouldn’t it?

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