Durham County sheriff says he feels outrage, embarrassment in wake of George Floyd’s death

Durham County News

DURHAM N.C. (WNCN)– The Durham County sheriff is speaking out against the actions of the police officers involved in restraining George Floyd who died in police custody.

A video shows Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, during an arrest, even after Floyd said he couldn’t breathe and stopped moving.

Durham County Sheriff Clarence Birkhead released the following letter in response to the actions of the police officers:

In New York, false accusations. In Georgia, vigilantes. In Minnesota, excessive force. The African-American community is, yet again, crying out for justice, equality, reform, and answers.  As your Sheriff, I hear your voices.  As a law enforcement leader, I am embarrassed, and outraged, at the behavior of a few officers who fail to demonstrate the professionalism and humanity required to protect and serve our diverse communities.  No matter how hard I try, I simply cannot understand how these incidents continue to occur and those officers responsible seemingly go unpunished.

Thirty-five years ago, I was called into law enforcement to help diversify a profession that had few people of color, like me, in its ranks. I believed then, as I do now, that the key to having a criminal justice system that is fair and just for all persons is achieved from within.  But as I see and hear more about George Floyd, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, and others, the realization that we have much more work to do becomes tragically apparent.  I find the acts and omissions by these police officers to be incomprehensible and indefensible.  All of us, including those accused or convicted of a crime, deserve humane treatment. 

As Sheriff, I will not tolerate the disregard for humankind. I am committed to ensuring fair and impartial treatment of all residents of Durham County regardless of their ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, religion, age, or socioeconomic class. When we encounter lawbreakers in our community, they are to be treated with dignity and respect. I am committed to making sure the men and women of the Durham County Sheriff’s Office understand that wearing the uniform is a privilege and an honor that is incumbent upon the existence of public approval.

Transparency, Engagement, and Accountability (T.E.A.) are my guiding principles as Sheriff.  I am committed to criminal justice reform and welcome dialogue with the community about the strengths and weaknesses of the judicial system, including law enforcement.  Together we can strive for, and achieve, law enforcement which provides enforcement without fear, just consequences, and a safer community. 

As we all continue to monitor the investigation of the officers’ actions in Minneapolis, let us be resolved to fight for justice for all here in Durham. Let us commit to stand up or kneel down when injustices are identified. And, let us all commit to being the change we desire in our community.

I extend my sincere condolences to the family of George Floyd.

Clarence F. Birkhead.
Sheriff of Durham County 

The four officers involved in the arrest of Floyd were fired Tuesday, hours after a bystander’s video provoked widespread outrage.

Floyd’s death has deeply shaken Minneapolis and sparked protests in cities across the U.S. Local leaders have repeatedly urged demonstrators to avoid violence.

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