Durham officials meet with protesters about over-policing, black poverty in community

Durham County News

DURHAM, NC — On Friday afternoon, a group of concerned community members met with city and county officials about their concerns with over-policing and poverty in black communities.

Durham Police Chief C.J. Davis and Durham County Sheriff Clarence Birkhead agreed to meet with the community members after they held a protest blocking traffic on the Durham Freeway on Monday afternoon.

Skip Gibbs, the protester organizer and leader of the OAM (Other America Movement) Durham, said the group would not get off the freeway until these two law enforcement leaders agreed to meet with them for a summit this week.

The summit was held at “The Fruit” at 305 S. Dillard Street on Friday afternoon.

The organizers kept the meeting private and closed it to the media and to the public, which angered some community members who showed up and were not allowed inside.      

“When you have community members asking if they can come in, a community member should never be turned away,” said Andrea Hudson, a concerned community member from Durham.

However, Gibbs said social distancing was one reason he decided to close the meeting to the public.

“The meeting was private, because we have limited space,” Gibbs said. “We cannot hold our whole entire community.”

Gibbs told CBS 17 that he felt the meeting was successful as he felt he got his message across to city and county leaders.

“What’s happening right now in America is black people are being oppressed financially,” Gibbs said. “We need financial independence.”

Gibbs said the problem is not just with over-policing, but with racial injustice right here in Durham.

Durham Mayor Steve Schewel said the city will take steps to address this.

“This is about poverty and it’s about good schools for everybody,” said Schewel. “It’s about all the things we know that can create a society where equality is real and where racial justice is real.”

Gibbs is also asking that certain funds be reallocated from the police to other areas.

“We need police obviously, but what I do say is that the city budget has a lot of different places that they can allocate funds from to go to our community where we need it most,” Gibbs said.

Gibbs said that a community liaison committee will be formed where people who live in the communities can voice their concerns and get the funding to fix certain problems in their communities. 

Durham County Sheriff Clarence Birkhead released a statement shortly after the meeting which said in part quote: 

As Sheriff, I am committed to criminal justice reform. As a fellow Durham resident, I pledge to work together to change the status quo in order to level the playing field for everyone.

Our nation is crying out for change. We’ve seen violence in places that are very close to us. But right here in Durham, we are releasing our frustration in peaceful and constructive ways. My office will continue working with Chief Davis and the Durham Police Department to give our community the space it needs to keep telling us how we can all be better.

As your Durham County Sheriff, I pledge to work with this group and any others who want to constructively assist with change.

Durham County Sheriff Clarence Birkhead

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