5 shot and killed in Durham in the past month, city prepares to launch safety task force

Durham County News

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — Every month several families in Durham have been forced to bury a loved one lost to gun violence so far this year.

Twenty-year-old Demecio Sowell Jr. died the night before Thanksgiving when he was shot and killed while driving near the intersection of Liberty and Railroad Streets on Nov. 25.

Derick Cagle is a friend of Sowell’s family and he said the former Northern High School football star was just two years out of school.

Sowell said he couldn’t believe it when he heard that Sowell had been shot and killed.

“I was like no, I would have never thought him going out by gun violence, not him,” Cagle said.

According to recent police data, there have been 897 shooting incidents, 294 people have been shot, and five of those individuals have died.

On Nov. 12, Durham Mayor Steve Schewel and Police Chief C.J. Davis held a press conference where the city reiterated how police have created a centralized unit focused in areas hit hard by violence.

The mayor also talked about the need for more private companies to step up and provide opportunities for young people, in an effort to steer them away from gun violence.

Schewel had also called on the state legislature to pass stricter gun legislation and allocate more funds toward mental health and drug treatment services.

However, since that press conference there have been 64 more shooting incidents, 20 more people have been shot, and five more people have died.

CBS 17 spoke with Schewel on Friday and asked specifically what has been done since the press conference to address crime.

“We are doing the things we outlined then,” Schewel said. “The police department is doing everything it can, but I’ll say that policing alone is not going to solve this problem.”

Schewel said one thing the city is working on is appointing members to the Community Safety and Wellness Task Force.

This task force will focus on addressing issues with racial and economic disparities.

Schewel said one thing the task force will look at is sending mental health professionals to certain incidents rather than police.

“We know a lot of times encounters with police can lead to unwanted consequences and so we think in certain cases it’s going to be better to have a mental health professional respond to a mental health crisis,” Schewel said.

Schewel said launching this Community Safety and Wellness Task Force is one step toward addressing the root causes of the recent crime.

“This is a problem that our whole society has to take on, we have got to attack the root causes,” Schewel said.

Schewel said the Community Safety and Wellness Task Force is expected to fully launch sometime after the first of the year.

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