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Police: UNC, Duke Slayings Not Gang-Related

Posted March 13, 2008
Updated March 19, 2008

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— Investigators don't believe the shooting deaths of two students – one at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and one at Duke University – are gang-related, Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez said Thursday.

Speculation grew in the days following UNC Student Body President Eve Carson's March 5 slaying that two suspects depicted in surveillance photos taken at a Chapel Hill automated teller machine and a convenience store were members of a gang because of their age and hat that one of them wore.

Laurence Alvin Lovette Jr., 17, of 1213 Shepherd St. in Durham, and Demario James Atwater, 21, of 414-B Macon St. in Durham, have been charged with first-degree murder in Carson's death. Lovette also has been charged with the Jan. 18 slaying of Duke graduate student Abhijit Mahato.

Lopez said the pair appears to have been acting alone in committing random crimes.

"I don't give any credit to any gangs at this point in time. I believe they are two young men who were involved in some robberies and homicides, and they have been charged as such."

Durham has a major gang problem, according to a recent report. More than a quarter of juveniles adjudicated for crimes in the city were identified as gang members, which is three times the statewide rate, the report said.

Lopez said Durham shouldn't be blamed for the alleged crimes of Lovette and Atwater. He noted that people from Raleigh and other cities commit crimes in Durham, too.

"This is an incident that was committed by an individual and not by the city. I don't think it was because they were from Durham that caused them to commit this crime. (It's) possibly because they were (in) Durham that caused them to get caught."

Durham police tracked down and arrested both.

Arnold Dennis, director of the Juvenile Justice Center at North Carolina Central University, said criminal elements among young people in Durham stem from a broken social system in which there's a significant divide between the wealthy and the poor.

"We haven't been able to connect in a substantial way with these folks who really need to be brought into the mainstream in terms of employment," Dennis said.

The Durham Police Department has one of the largest anti-gang units in North Carolina, but its efforts aren't well coordinated, according to the recent study, which was funded by the department and the Durham County Sheriff's Office. Schools and other agencies often ignore the gang problem, the study found.

The study's report recommended the following steps to combat the gang problem:

  • prioritize gang cases in the courts to resolve them more quickly
  • restructure the police gang unit to focus on improved intelligence and fast prosecutions
  • coordinate local services for troubled youths
  • enforce truancy sanctions and limit school expulsions to the most serious infractions
  • expand positive-behavior programs in schools

Dennis said that fixing the problem will take more than government intervention.

"It's a community problem, not a family problem," he said. "Stop pointing fingers. ... Either we're going solve it, or we're going to constantly lock kids up."

23 Comments

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  • Shadow213 Mar 14, 2008

    Lopez said Durham shouldn't be blamed for the alleged crimes of Lovette and Atwater. He noted that people from Raleigh and other cities commit crimes in Durham, too.

    --this crime wasn't committed in Durham.

    "This is an incident that was committed by an individual and not by the city. I don't think it was because they were from Durham that caused them to commit this crime.

    --who's blaming the city? i think people just aren't surprised the individuals were from durham. the town does have the reputation of being "ghetto" no need to be defensive. just concentrate on cleaning up the criminals when necessary

  • Alicat Mar 14, 2008

    Gang related or not it seems that their actions emulate gang activity. Same kind of violent behavior with disregard for human life. All for a thrill and power. I hope they never see the light of day again in a free setting. These two seem beyond rehabilitation.

  • CestLaVie Mar 14, 2008

    Not gang-related? This looks like a gang of violent, angry, young men.

    "...criminal elements among young people in Durham stem from a broken social system in which there's a significant divide between the wealthy and the poor." Sounds typical of a sociologist's view of our culture - blame society instead of the individual.

    Lots of opinions; little solutions, that work.

  • Smiling Jack 84 Mar 14, 2008

    I don't care about causes, but the results are appalling.

    The gang that should be rounded up is the gang of judges and prosecutors who abuse their power and fail to protect the public. Nifong was just one rotten apple in that barrel.

  • blackdog Mar 14, 2008

    ...admitting the existence of a gang problem would be detrimental to the image of Durham....

  • fatchanceimwrong Mar 14, 2008

    WXYZ - watch out buddy, you said "young black men" on WRAL. You are, therefore, a racist my friend. Okay..."tongue in cheek" of course. My point is that though all the data & statistics clearly show that it is a social-economic problem in the black community, we as citizens are not supposed to acknowledge that it is, else we're considered racist and have sensitivity problems. You ask some good questions that get to the root of the problems. Durham is and will always be a high-crime area with gangs & violent crimes. The law can do something about it, but it never will because the leaders will not acknowledge the true problems for fear of being considered racist.

  • oldschooltarheel Mar 14, 2008

    LocalBoy I had the misfortune to sit at least 3 times in Durham County traffic court watching the drunk driver who hit me get lesser and lesser charges with each continuation. No driver's license, no identification at all, slobbering drunk, refused to blow - ultimately "driving with alcohol on board under the age of 21" - but no ID. Never showed once for his year of probation - don't even really know who he was or how old he was - no bench warrant issued, no follow up. The judges were ridiculous, but Durham is a "sanctuary city" that only selectively prosecutes some people for some crimes. No justice is blind here. It must be very frustrating for LEO - frustration that impairs morale and performance.
    The "factors" mentioned by WXYZ are not the entire story. There are plenty of single mothers who raise law abiding children who go onto becoming adults who are not criminals. Tolerating and excusing the illegal activities for whatever reason emboldens and validates the criminals.

  • WXYZ Mar 14, 2008

    What factors create this behavior in young black men? A few questions come to mind: What percentage of black children: are born out of wedlock...do not have a father's name on their birth certificate...are raised only by their female relatives (most of whom are unemployed)...are fed with food bought with government charity money....do not go to church...drop out of school...can do algebra...have no positive male role models...consume street drugs...sell street drugs...belong to gangs...go to college...achieve or maintain at least a "C" average in school...participate in school-sponsored or community sponsored extracurricular activities other than sports...have been arrested before the age of 13...have mothers who are alcoholics or drug addicts...have been mentally or physically abused by their family and neighbors...grow up surrounded by trash, junk, filth and squalor...and what else? Who is asking these and other questions and telling the truth?

  • LocalBoy Mar 14, 2008

    oldschooltarheel, the problem is mostly with the court system. I am a Durham officer and have arrested many gang members. The problem is that I then arrest them again a short time later for the same crimes. Until the judges step up and do something it will continue to be a problem. It you blow your mind if you saw how some of these guys get off. Just go sit in court someday. Sometimes I feel like I'm fighting a losing battle.

  • oldschooltarheel Mar 14, 2008

    Apparently wannabes emulating "gang behavior" gets people kidnapped, robbed & dead quite effectively. Time to make "wannabes" wannabe something else. Time to change laissez faire attitudes about gangs and crime in Durham - for the good of all law abiding folks! Time to have state/Federal involvement because the local government clearly can't shut it down!

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