Local News

Community searches for answers to Durham shootings

Posted December 2, 2020 5:36 p.m. EST
Updated December 4, 2020 1:36 p.m. EST

— The number of people shot in Durham is up nearly 63 percent from last year, including a fatal shooting Monday night.

Jelani Whittington, 37, was found shot to death in a car on East Main Street, police said.

In all, more than 290 people have been the victims of gunfire in Durham in 2020, and even those who haven't lost a loved one to the gun violence say all of the shootings are turning their lives upside down.

"I’m in a profession where I either know the victim or the suspect, and the most disheartening part is, at some point in time, they were in my path," said Derrick Cagle, master barber at Gentleman Quarters Barber Shop on Durham-Chapel Hill Boulevard.

Demecio Sowell Jr. was among the victims Cagle knew. Not only was he a customer at the barber shop, he also was the son of Cagle's best friend.

Police say Sowell was gunned down while driving on Liberty Street the night before Thanksgiving.

"He had the energy of the sun. He’s a very family-oriented guy," Cagle said. "He’s one of those guys [that], when I look at my schedule and see he’s coming in, I look forward to it."

Cagle and other Durham barbers have started an organization to encourage an end to gun violence. Through their job, they said, they have the chance to have a 15-minute conversation every few weeks with young people sitting in their chairs, and they want to make sure those conversations count.

"It’s time for us to step up as a community and take a stand," Cagle said. "Normally, barbers know both sides to every story. The youth are inclined to open up to barbers."

The Gentleman Quarters Academy, or GQ Academy, offers food and free haircuts to have the opportunity to talk to young men about peer pressure, gun violence, sex and other issues, he said.

A paintball event with conversation and guest speakers about gun violence prevention is scheduled for Dec. 27, which would have been Sowell's 21st birthday.

"It’s just straight talk, and it helps bridge the gap between the younger generation and the older generation" Cagle said, noting that Sowell had helped plan the event. "Violence in Durham is an issue, and I look at myself – I blame myself. I blame myself because I can do more. I can do more."

Meanwhile, residents of the Oxford Manor public housing complex in north Durham say it's all they can do to avoid the almost daily gunfire.

"If you want a practice range, come to Oxford Manor," said Shalanda Davis, who has lived at the complex for a half-dozen years.

Davis' home and car have both been hit by bullets, but she said the worst impact of the routine gunfire is on the children at Oxford Manor, including her own 18-year-old and 2-year-old.

"Like most kids, he’s immune to the gunshots now," she said of her teenage son. "Look around. Beautiful day out here. How may kids do you see? They don’t come outside. Parents won't let them outside."

Laquita Bowling's three children, ages 15, 4 and 2, were waiting on the front porch to leave on Tuesday afternoon when gunshots rang out.

"I don’t let them out, period, unless we’re going somewhere," Bowling said.

"I hear gunshots, and I’m constantly ducking," she added. "I don’t feel safe in my home, outside my home, nothing."

Both women said they hope to move their families to safer homes.

"I don’t think anyone who’s out here feels safe living out here," Davis said. "You can’t blame just one person. Everyone could do more – residents, police, housing authority, everyone could do more."

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