Durham, N.C. — Comments that Durham's police chief is accused of making about a local attorney who deserved to be shot are indicative of a greater problem within the police force, the attorney said Monday.
"The alleged statements made by Chief Lopez are not the bigger issue," David Hall, a criminal and family law attorney, said Monday. "They are an indication of the culture that we seek to change."
Hall was an innocent bystander struck by a stray bullet during a June 22 shooting on Gray Avenue.
In the days following the shooting, Lopez reportedly told members of his department that Hall deserved to be shot because he is a defense attorney, according to an Aug. 15 complaint filed by Assistant Police Chief Winslow Forbes.
The comment came prior to a press conference about the number of homicides in Durham involving black men – either as suspects or victims.
"It's very difficult to separate the racial issue from the disparaging remarks Chief Lopez made about public defenders," said Daryl Atkinson, an attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, and a member of the group Fostering Alternative Drug Enforcement. "It's because public defenders are the people's defenders."
FADE led a march Monday evening from the Durham Police Department to City Hall to raise awareness of what it calls racist policies within the police department.
The group says other recent incidents highlight the need for change. It cites the July 27 shooting death of Jose Adan Cruz Ocampo as an example.
Ocampo was shot and killed by a Durham officer responding to a stabbing call on Park Avenue. Police said he was shot after he refused to drop a knife, but witnesses and Ocampo's family questioned the officer's actions and whether lethal force was necessary.
"When you think about people who go through our criminal justice system are black and poor, when you make disparaging comments against the people that represent that group of folks, you are essentially making disparaging remarks against those people," Atkinson said.
Lopez said Sept. 6 that he doesn't deny the comment but said he also can't recall making it. He apologized for it and for creating a wedge between his department and defense attorneys.
"I can assure you that any comment that may have been made among my peers of this organization concerning the defense attorney was not made with malice, and I apologize if it offended anyone," he said. "I would never condone such a comment being made as a personal statement, as an organizational statement or as an opinion."
FADE says it would like to see Lopez and other city leaders participate in what it calls racial equality training.
"It gives us a common understanding from which to start our dialogue, and hopefully the cultural and institutional change we all seek to make Durham a better place for all Durham residents," Atkinson said.