Local Politics

Durham councilwoman's criticism of police sparks outrage

Posted June 22, 2016 11:14 a.m. EDT
Updated June 22, 2016 6:29 p.m. EDT

— City Councilwoman Jillian Johnson's comment on social media that "the most dangerous people with guns are cops and soldiers" has prompted heavy criticism from Durham police and residents.

Johnson posted the following on her personal Facebook page on Monday: "I am all about keeping guns away from dangerous people, but I feel like more of us should be pointing out that the most dangerous people with guns are cops and soldiers, and that the no-fly list and FBI anti-terror efforts are seriously corrupted by entrapment, racial profiling and Islamophobia."

The Durham Fraternal Order of Police Lodge called the comment "disturbing and hateful" and said the City Council and Durham residents shouldn't condone her position.

"It is amazing that an ELECTED OFFICIAL would have such a negative view of law enforcement and military personnel since they risk so much to keep our streets and country safe," the FOP wrote in its own Facebook post.

Mayor Bill Bell, an Army veteran, said he disagrees with Johnson's comment and said he would be surprised if many others on the City Council supported her position.

"However, we are each elected by the voters of Durham, and becoming an elected official does not mean that you give up your right to express your thoughts on any subject, no matter how many may agree or disagree with your remarks," Bell said in an email.

Councilman Don Moffitt agreed with the mayor, saying, "I support Jillian's right to express her views and the right of Durham voters to elect her to the council, but I strongly disagree with her statement."

Councilman Eddie Davis wasn't as adamant about Johnson's comment.

"While I respect and support the men and women who put their lives on the line each day to serve and protect our community, I recognize that there are others who have varying perspectives on the process of policing," Davis said.

A city spokeswoman said City Manager Tom Bonfield wouldn't comment until he had spoken to Johnson.

Some Durham residents said police are often criticized unfairly.

"I don't take anything out on police. They're doing everything they can with the situation they're presented with, especially in Durham," Morgan Hicks said.

"Cops are just getting a bad rap for all the stuff in the nation that has happened. You've got good cops, and you've got bad cops," Brian Blackmon said.

Johnson declined to speak with WRAL News about the controversy, saying a "clarifying statement" she posted on her City Council Facebook page would be her only response.

"I believe that state-sanctioned violence causes more harm, and is therefore more dangerous, than non state-sanctioned violence," she wrote in that post. "I believe this is true both because the approval of those in authority and often the general public gives a veneer of acceptability to actions we would otherwise condemn, but also because states have the capacity to spend huge resources equipping and funding people to use force in defense of their interests.

"The US spends as much on our military as all other countries combined. We have the highest police homicide rates in the developed world and we incarcerate 25% of the world’s prisoners," the post continues. "We should not ignore these facts, or wrongly assume that those who believe that this situation is fundamentally unjust and should not continue are harboring a hatred for police and soldiers. I certainly find a great many of the actions taken by militaries and police forces here in the US and around the world extremely troubling, and I also respect the humanity of those who do not share this disagreement."

In an email to WRAL News, she added that she doesn't believe her comment undermines the efforts of police and the military or her working relationship with new Durham Police Chief C.J. Davis.

"Our new police chief is aware of the statistics both nationally and in Durham on police violence and racial profiling," Johnson wrote in the email. "We have all very recently reviewed a study showing clear evidence of racially-biased policing here in Durham. She has committed to working to end racial profiling in Durham and to have a transparent and accountable relationship with the public. I support her because she has indicated that she is willing to take the steps that are necessary to reduce the negative impact of aggressive and biased policing in our city."

Davis issued a statement thanking her officers for their service.

"The City of Durham is fortunate to have faithful, dedicated police officers who are committed to serving residents. Our organization remains focused on addressing crime concerns and quality of life issues, including fostering a positive working relationship with the community, while continually enhancing the department," Davis said in the statement.