Answers are needed – and quickly – about what happened in Raleigh police shooting

The crowd marches down Bragg Street to the Bible Way Temple after speakers memorialized shooting victim Akiel Denkins in Raleigh.
The crowd marches down Bragg Street to the Bible Way Temple after speakers memorialized shooting victim Akiel Denkins in Raleigh. cliddy@newsobserver.com

A day later, not all the facts in a shooting Monday just south of downtown Raleigh were in. A young man, identified by family as 24-year-old Akiel Denkins, was alleged by police to have been fleeing from an officer seeking to arrest him on a felony drug charge. Witnesses say Denkins hopped a fence behind a convenience store, P.J.’s Grill and Groceries on Bragg Street, and an officer followed. The officer, they said, fell and then opened fire on Denkins from behind. Denkins was killed.

The officer was identified as Senior Officer D.C. Twiddy, 29, hired in 2009. He is white. Denkins was African-American. Almost immediately, neighborhood residents started talking about police violence against minority citizens, and, of course, memories of Ferguson, a Missouri incident, and others involving African-Americans in deadly encounters with police in recent years were coming to the forefront of discussions.

A peaceful gathering followed the shooting, and Twiddy was put on administrative duty.

For Raleigh Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown, the task of gathering facts is an urgent one. Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman already had the State Bureau of Investigation on the case. Incidents such as this, without prompt answers, can harm a city – and the young man’s family deserves to know what happened.

William Barber, head of the state NAACP, urged calm but forcefully encouraged law officers and city officials to fill in the blanks, and he noted that fleeing arrest is not a cause for deadly force. He said the community “can handle the truth.” Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane also quickly urged calm and offered condolences to the family of the slain man. She promised to release information as it is available. Local ministers should join forces in offering grief counseling to anyone in need of it in the area.

Deck-Brown initially said a firearm was found near Denkins after he fell. But eyewitnesses said they saw no gun. And legitimate questions were raised: Denkins had been arrested on various charges multiple times and had misdemeanor convictions. Police must have known him and how to find him. Why, one witness asked, was it necessary to try to apprehend him with a gun – even if he was running?

The incident also has prompted questions about why Raleigh has delayed in getting body cameras for police officers. Such a camera presumably would help police determine what happened, and it would provide answers to a community where encounters with police are common and where some residents view law enforcement skeptically.