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Lessons learned by Durham police contribute to peaceful protests over Ferguson

Posted November 26, 2014

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— Across the country, television cameras captured chaotic scenes of protesters, upset at a grand jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., vandalizing property and being led away in handcuffs.

Such scenes did not play out in Durham Tuesday night – even after protesters briefly blocked the Durham Freeway and chanted at officers, who wore riot gear, while standing in front of Durham Police Department headquarters.

“No one got hurt, which is amazing,” Durham Mayor Bill Bell said. “I think police conducted themselves well.”

Even those among the protesters were stunned by the relative calm.

“I was very surprised by how things were handled. It was surreal to me,” said Rodrigo Dorfman, a Durham filmmaker who captured Tuesday night’s protests. “I guess the police department figured it was not worth repressing. I’m really happy there wasn’t any repression and the city allowed people to vent their anger.”

The police restraint resulted from lessons learned after protests over Jesus Huerta in December 2013 and January 2014, Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez said. Huerta, 17, died after shooting himself in the back of a Durham police car while handcuffed. The incident led to multiple demonstrations where clashes between protesters and police resulted in tear gas, arrests and damage to police vehicles and buildings.

"Last night we, working with the (Durham County) sheriff’s department, used a lot of lessons learned not only here in Durham but elsewhere to make it safe for the general public and protesters,” Lopez said. “People from the Durham area were looking to make their voices heard and they did and we respect that."

Two incidents of vandalism were reported from Tuesday night:

  • Someone spray painted “Burn the prisons” on a wall outside the Durham County jail.
  • A group claiming to be anarchists vandalized the Durham National Guard Armory. The building was also damaged after Brown was killed in August.

Overall, Bell said he was pleased with how Tuesday night unfolded, which included no arrests.

“You’re always going to have some element of a large crowd that will do something out of the norm,” he said.

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  • Bill of Rights Nov 26, 2014

    Amazing how things remain peaceful when the protestors don't burn the city down, isn't it?