Caught on cam: Durham police arresting protesters; witnesses raise concerns of possible excessive force
Posted July 20, 2020 12:35 p.m. EDT
Updated July 21, 2020 6:20 p.m. EDT
Durham, N.C. — On Saturday night, a protest in Durham ended with 23 arrests – and vandalism to the old Durham police headquarters.
Some witnesses are now raising concerns, claiming police used excessive force in carrying out the mass arrest.
Protesters were outside the old station, calling to abolish police. Some members of the group reportedly broke into the building and hung banners from the top – reading "abolish" and "reclaim."
Some of the people who broke into the station left broken windows, broken furniture and graffiti behind.
Cell phone video shows police moving in to make arrests
Cell phone video taken by Miguel Staten shows some of the arrests. He said he believes what he saw and captured was excessive force.
"It was very troubling the way they [the police] were throwing people to the ground. I saw people on the ground screaming with blood across their forehead. It was an absurd overuse of force," he said.
UNC law student Gina Balamucki also attended the protest.
She said the people arrested were not the ones who vandalized the old police headquarters.
"I literally heard the commander yell ‘just arrest anyone’ to his officers. And he yelled that multiple times. They were absolutely not targeting anyone specifically. They were just arresting anyone who was there, at random," she said.
Of the 23 people arrested, 22 were charged with "felony inciting to riot," which includes causing damage to property.
Police said protesters vandalized the building and assaulted a man, throwing him to the ground and kicking him.
In a statement after the arrests, a Durham police spokeswoman said, "Anytime an officer engages in an application of force, the department self-initiates an investigative review of that use of force ... I cannot specifically confirm or deny any such pending investigations. The department has not received any external complaints regarding the officers’ conduct during these arrests."
The importance of the vandalized police headquarters building
The old headquarters has been vacant for a couple of years. However, Durham's mayor, Steve Schewel, said this building has an important meaning – and an important future.
“Everybody needs to know that that building is not just a vacant building. It’s a historic building, and it’s a place where 80 units of affordable housing will be built right next to it. So it’s part of the same deal," he said.
What group organized the protests?
Protesters spoken to by WRAL claimed they do not know who organized the protest.
It's not clear if the individuals who were arrested were with a particular group or had a particular message, but several of the defendants names have also been tied to previous protests over Confederate monuments.
Among those arrested are two people charged - then acquitted -- for toppling Silent Sam, as well as one person originally accused of toppling the Durham Confederate statue, whose charges were later dropped.
WRAL reached out to the Durham police, but they declined the request for an interview.