Durham mayor, police say violent protests over teen's death need to end
Posted February 5, 2014
Durham, N.C. — Mayor Bill Bell and a deputy police chief said in an online video this week that protest marches over the death of a teen in Durham police custody must become peaceful.
Jesus "Chuy" Huerta, 17, died shortly after his Nov. 19 arrest on a trespassing charge. Authorities have said he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the face while he was in the back of a patrol car with his hands cuffed behind his back.
Huerta's family has questioned the Durham Police Department's explanation of his death, and three marches have led to vandalism, violence and arrests.
In a special edition of the city's "City Life" video series that officials posted on YouTube Monday, Bell and Deputy Police Chief Larry Smith defended how police have handled the protests.
"We can sit back and Monday-morning quarterback about what should have happened, but the fact of the matter is that the people were not conducting themselves in a proper fashion," Bell said in the 16-minute video.
Following a November protest, Smith said, police were determined not to tolerate vandalism or having officers assaulted in subsequent marches. But police "were stonewalled at every turn" when they reached out to the Huerta family and protest organizers, he said.
A Dec. 19 protest then ended when police in riot gear used tear gas to disperse a hostile crowd on CCB Plaza downtown.
Bell and Smith said they are pleased that the Huerta family has since distanced themselves from the violent protests – the teen's relatives held a peaceful vigil on Jan. 19 as protesters smashed windows and spray-painted police cars and a substation – but they said protest organizers need to end the vandalism.
"It's either time for the protesters to indeed be peaceful or to stop," Smith said.
Bell called Durham "an activist community" that is used to vocal protests, but he said protesters cannot engage in "unacceptable behavior." The City Council will likely issue public guidelines for protests in the near future, he said.
"If they're not willing to accept guidelines, they're going to accept the results," Bell said of protesters, adding that their message is getting lost amid the violence.