NCCU prof: 'Black Lives Matter' movement similar to civil rights movement
Posted December 20, 2014
Durham, N.C. — They’ve become commonplace in the Triangle and across the country – gatherings from a few dozen to a few thousand in protest of recent grand jury decisions in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island, N.Y., not to indict white police officers in the deaths of black men being detained by law enforcement.
These demonstrations have grown recently from protests to calls for changes in how law enforcement interacts with the public, especially in minority communities. Using the rallying call “Black Lives Matter,” protesters have shut down highways, held “die-ins" on college campuses and displayed slogans of support.
Wake County School Board Member Keith Sutton wore a black T-shirt with #blacklivesmatter in white text during the district’s regular school board meeting Tuesday night to bring attention to academic disparities among black children.
"We must be intentional about, particularly, helping black males and black females and brown females and brown males who are often at the bottom rung of every measure of achievement and success," he said during the meeting.
The movement has spawned at least one tangible result – Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced plans Tuesday to outfit every police officer with a body camera. Protesters across the country have demanded more law enforcement agencies use the devices. President Barack Obama recently proposed a plan that included funding 50,000 body cameras for law enforcement.
North Carolina legislators plan to file a bill in the upcoming legislative session to ban profiling by law enforcement. Rep. Rodney Moore, D-Mecklenburg, said the measure was inspired by the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in Staten Island.
Irv Joyner, a law professor at North Carolina Central University who specializes in civil rights, says the recent protests are comparable to the civil rights movement.
“I think that clearly they’re similar in the sense that they are designed to bring attention to specific issues and concerns,” he said. “And then to educate the larger community about the concerns and the degree of anger which exists among a certain segment of people and allowing the media to help express those concerns to the larger population.”
Many of the Triangle protests have happened in Durham, including one on Tuesday in which a few dozen Jewish activists and others gathered at CCB Plaza in downtown Durham. The event, which occurred on the first day of Hannukah, included a petition demanding Durham police institute crowd-control training for officers, redirect funds spent on “militarized police presence” to community needs such as education and job training, and offer “real and potentially culture changing transformation” of the department.
"Just like we had to fight for our religious freedoms, we think it's important to show that we think others should be able to fight for their freedoms as well, and that's one of the reasons we're doing this on Hanukkah," said Debbie Goldstein with Carolina Jews for Justice.
Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez said the department is being proactive, from its ongoing work in addressing recommendations in a report claiming racial bias within the agency to officers being well-trained in crowd control. He added that Durham police does not have any "military stuff."
Anyone who wants to work with the department can reach out, but suggestions will not be implemented immediately, he said.
"If you're going to do them right, they can't happen overnight," Lopez said. "We have to look at them and see how they best fit the city. We can't rush into them at this point and time, especially now with a lot of police organizations rushing into equipment or policies because of these national protests and demands. We're going to make sure we get it right."
Durham has become the Triangle’s epicenter for these protests due to its recent history with police, Joyner said.
Violent marches erupted in January and February after the death of a teenager who shot himself while handcuffed in the back of a Durham police car. In May, a report by the Durham Human Relations Commission claimed racial bias within the Durham Police Department.
"There’s a connection between those things that have been going on in Durham over the last year or so with respect to police misconduct, racial profiling and things like that, that people are trying to draw a connection to so that people will see how this larger kind of national effort is also relevant here in Durham,” Joyner said.
Tuesday's protest was Durham's latest in recent weeks:
- On Dec. 13, the same day as a bigger rally in Washington D.C., 11 protesters were arrested on Swift Avenue near the Durham Freeway. A similar peaceful protest was also held in Fayetteville, where police officers marched with demonstrators.
- Dozens marched through The Streets at Southpoint Mall on Dec. 10, also staging a “die-in” inside Nordstrom, before blocking traffic on Fayetteville Road. Ten people were arrested.
- More than 30 people were arrested Dec. 5 after crowds converged outside the Durham Performing Arts Center just as a show was letting out. Another group shut down the Durham Freeway for about 20 minutes as some laid on the ground, some held hands to form a barrier across travel lanes and others approached police cars with their hands in the air.
The effort has recently spread to churches. Congregants in African-American churches across the country recently wore black to Sunday services.
Bishop Stenneth Powell Sr., pastor of Abundant Life Christian Center COGIC in Raleigh, said the "Black Lives Matter" movement is also a spiritual issue.
“This is really a call to action and it’s a response to the ways in which black lives have been devalued,” he said. “I believe it was Martin Luther King Jr. who said, ‘Protests, and even riots, is the language of the unheard.’ And hopefully someone will hear what’s going on and it will, I believe, encourage a dialogue and it’ll also encourage us to fix the problem.”
About 30 people from Word Empowerment Church in Durham blocked two intersections while conducting a brief peaceful march through East Durham last Sunday.
Joyner sees the unsolicited involvement of congregations as a sign of the movement’s progress.
“These church groups weren’t associated with the people who marched on the (Durham) freeway, but their message was one that was captured in their congregations in which the congregations felt it necessary for them as a group to speak up,” he said. “And they went out and conducted their own demonstrations, which indicates a growth in the movement and success in the movement.”