‘We have to stop this cycle:’ Black families in Durham disproportionately impacted by shootings

Durham County News

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – Sheryl Smith is a grandmother who is raising five children in Franklin Village, a low-income housing community in East Durham mostly made up of Black families.

While she is working to give her grandchildren the best life possible, she said gunfire continues to plague her community.

A couple of months ago, two people were shot in the parking lot right outside of their apartment.

Smith’s granddaughter, 11-year-old Na-Keria Bagley, said she hears gunfire in her neighborhood every other day.

“When we were younger, we were scared to sleep in our room, so we made pallets in the living room to sleep on until the shootings went down,” Bagley said.

Smith said gun violence is something her family has dealt with for years.

This November marks 16 years since Smith’s 18-year-old son Todd Douglas was shot and killed while walking home from the store in 2005.

“After my son was murdered, it has really changed my whole world,” Smith said. “We have to stop this cycle, it has to end.”

According to data from the Durham Police Department, Black families are disproportionately impacted by gun violence.

While only 37 percent of Durham’s population is Black, so far this year 89 percent of the people who have been shot are African American.

During 2020, which was a record-breaking year for shootings in Durham, 284 of the 318 people shot last year were Black.

When looking at the ethnicity of those committing the shootings, last year 76 out of the 78 individuals arrested for the shootings were African American.

“This is a systemic failure,” said DeWarren Langley, executive director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Foundation, which is a non-profit organization that provides mentorship to young boys and men of color.

“We have too many communities that lack resources and that then turns into engagement in other alternatives, like gangs and the drug enterprises, and that is what gun violence is a direct result of,” Langley said.

Langley said many Black students are dealing with economic disparities at home, and that can impact their schoolwork.

His foundation consists of different programs that provide workshops and tutoring that help open the eyes of young Black men to career possibilities.

“We have a lot of different organizations and initiatives that are working in silos to deal with this challenge,” Langley said. “What we need is a collective, coordinated, and strategic plan.”

CBS 17 took Langley’s concerns to Durham City Councilman Mark-Anthony Middleton, representing Ward 2, to see if the city could help create one plan for all of the organizations working toward addressing the issue.

“What I’m focusing on now as we have a new government taking office within weeks, is to fund even more vigorously those programs and initiatives that are having an impact in our city,” Middleton said.

As for Langley, he is urging the city council to do more, as lives are being lost and people are shot in Durham on a routine basis.

“To keep delaying and excusing bureaucracy for where we are, I think is an insult to the lives that have already been lost and the lives that continue to wait for us to finally get our act together to support them,” Langley said.

Smith said she is also calling on city and county elected officials to do more to combat the problem.

“We shouldn’t have to continue to fight this battle, because it can be fixed,” Smith said.

According to the latest data from Durham police, there have been 674 shooting incidents in Durham this year, 230 people have been shot, and 35 of those people have died.

Durham police want to remind anyone who has information about shooting incidents and other crimes to call Durham CrimeStoppers, (919) 683-1200, to submit an anonymous tip. Also, there are CrimeStoppers operators who speak Spanish.

Anyone can visit Durham CrimeStoppers to learn more about how they maintain callers’ anonymity. Tips leading to felony arrests or felony charges may qualify for a monetary reward.

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