Moving Forward: Durham mayor talks about recent protests in the city

Moving Forward

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — Since the death of George Floyd while in police custody, protestors and activists continue to demand social justice and an end to racism and violence at the hands of law enforcement.

Months later, we wanted to know how this movement is impacting our city and town leaders and how they are addressing the wake up call. In the series Moving Forward, Durham Mayor Steve Schewel shares his point of view.

We started by asking the mayor about recent protests. People have come out and expressed their concerns — and Schewel listened to what they said. But we wanted to know what he heard.

“We have had protests in Durham a lot a protests ever since the murder of George Floyd. And those are righteous protests. People need to be protesting,” said Schewel. “People are out for a larger reason which is that our country has been and is beset by systemic racism that is real. We have incredible still racial inequities in our society and health care and education and jobs and income and housing and people are out to protest that. And that’s their right — I’m very supportive of that.”

But peaceful protests have also turned into vandalism. We wanted to know if the mayor acknowledged a difference. Because often — and we’ve seen it on social media — the main reasons people are protesting get overshadowed by spray paint on buildings or shattered glass in the streets.

“The leadership of our protests, these are people that I’ve talked to many of them. They love Durham and they are protesting but they’re not trying to break things or tear things down,” Schewel said.

And then he added, “I think we all know the difference of somebody who is out protesting righteously and I have protested many times in my life, many times including very recently. But we know the difference between that and someone who is just out to break a window or cause trouble. We have had very little vandalism — I don’t know that we’ve had any looting and I think there are reasons for that. I think that our police have done a fabulous job of supporting the protesters. You haven’t seen any of those confrontational tactics that’s you’ve seen in many places. I give full marks to chief Davis and our police department for that.”

Schewel has been understanding of the protests. Yet some people are not so understanding. So we asked where Schewel about his civil rights history.

“I’m almost 70 years old,” He said. ” And my parents were civil rights liberals. I went to my first civil rights march when I was 13-years-old. And I’ve never looked back from that. It’s why I wanted to be in public office is to contribute as much as I can to right the tragic wrongs of segregation, of enslavement, of Jim Crow, of segregation and the wrongs that exist today in terms of racial injustice. And I feel like that’s my work.”

So with such a history of protests and supporting the Civil Rights Movement, we had to get his opinion and what he feels needs to happen to “Move Forward.”

“We need to be taking actions all the time to try to right the racial injustices that we see in our society. And I think Durham moves forward by taking actions on those things and many more.” Schewel said.

There’s so much more from my conversation with Schewel. He also went into great detail about the steps he and the City Council have taken to address racial disparities and other issues such as affordable housing, public transportation and a program that restores suspended driver’s licenses.

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