Durham officials: Violence detracts from protests over teen's death
Posted January 20
Durham, N.C. — Mayor Bill Bell said Monday that the search for answers in the death of a teen who shot himself while in Durham police custody is getting lost amid repeated acts of violence.
For the third time since Jesus Huerta's Nov. 19 death, a march calling for justice for the family ended in arrests Sunday night.
Davonte Fennell, 20, Lucas Peters, 18, Matthew Thomas, 16, Hector Gomez, 16 and two juveniles were charged with unauthorized entry and assembly in a city-owned parking facility and resisting delaying and obstructing law enforcement.
They were part of a group of about 120, many of whom wore masks, who marched about a mile from Immaculate Conception Catholic Church on West Chapel Hill Street to a Durham Police Department substation downtown, where the building and five police cars were vandalized.
Windows at the substation and the back window of at least one patrol car were shattered by rocks, and someone poured ketchup on the cars and spray-painted the word "pig" on at least two vehicles.
"What gets the headline is the damage that they’re doing, not the subject they protest in," Bell said.
Huerta had been picked up on an outstanding trespassing charge and was sitting in the back of a patrol car with his hands cuffed behind his back when he shot himself in the mouth and died, according to authorities.
A preliminary internal police report concluded that Officer Samuel Duncan missed a .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun during a search of Huerta at the time of his arrest. The police department is looking into whether Duncan violated any policies in how he handled the arrest, and he remains on administrative duty until the investigation is complete.
"Durham is a very activist community," Bell said. "My concern is when it gets out of order – when you have vandalism and that is inappropriate – and it takes away from whatever people protest."
At the same time as the protest march, hundreds of people gathered inside Immaculate Conception for a vigil remembering Huerta. Father Bill McIntyre, pastor of the church, said he requested that protesters stay away from the vigil.
"Violence is not a good response to a violent act," McIntyre said. "So, 99.9 percent of the people who were involved last night were not arrested, were not destructive. A few people, sadly, were, and I couldn’t support that."
The vigil allowed the Huerta family to see the community supported them. Police Chief Jose Lopez and his wife attended the event.
"So many people from different communities and seemingly different interest came together to mourn his loss," McIntyre said.
On Dec. 19, what was supposed to be a peaceful march for Huerta turned into a confrontation between demonstrators and police, who deployed tear gas on the crowd after they say protesters threw rocks and bottles at officers and set off smoke bombs. Six people were arrested.
Three days after Huerta's death, a crowd of protesters also left vandalism in its wake.
Bell said he isn't concerned that the repeated violence will tarnish Durham's image.
"Durham is much bigger than that," he said. "Durham permits protest, but there are guidelines and rules that you follow, and I would expect anybody that is planning on doing a protest or march in Durham would follow the rules."
The Huerta family said Monday that they stand behind those who are demanding answers from police over the teen's death. The family, which has called for a federal investigation of the police department, said marches will be held monthly "until justice is served."
"Reconciliation takes place when there is justice too, and what justice looks like is a slow process," McIntyre said. "That is something in which others are involved, and it will probably be too slow, but it will be addressed."