Monday was May Day, which meant it was International Worker’s Day and in honor of the occasion, a collection of the city’s activist organizers threw a two-and-a-half hour long protest.
Beginning at the construction site for the new Police Department Headquarters on East Main Street around 5 p.m., members of some of Durham’s most active activist groups — including the Durham Beyond Policing Campaign, Black Youth Project 100, Inside-Outside Alliance and The Industrial Workers of the World, also known as the “Wobblies,” — marched to the Durham County jail where speakers spoke around 6 p.m., marched onward and ended up at City Hall shortly before 7 p.m.
The Durham City Council was scheduled to begin its meeting there at 7 p.m. On the council meeting’s agenda was Police Chief C.J. Davis’s presentation of her department’s 2017 First Quarter Crime Report.
While the councilwomen and councilmen took their seats, outside on City Hall Plaza a couple hundred protesters chanted, read each others messaged signs, listened to words amplified by bullhorns and began to file into City Hall themselves, making for the Council Chambers to a soundtrack of beating drums. Instead of walking, some demonstrators semi-danced through City Hall’s doors. Police checked bags.
The Chambers became very full. A small band of seven protesters formed a line in front the City Council, taking center stage and facing away from the council to better address their audience — namely their comrades, filling the Chambers aisles.
In an interview Black Youth Project 100 spokeswoman D’atra Jackson explained the protest’s intent. “The police in Durham receive $60 million a year and they were able to take at least $71 million out of the City’s budget to build a new headquarters and we are pushing for, trying to understand, why this City has continuously decided to invest in policing and not invest more in the communities,” she said.
In the City Council Chambers, the group of seven spoke in chorus, announcing, “We are the People’s City Council and on this May Day, we pledge solidarity with workers worldwide by demanding a Durham Beyond Policing.”
One woman said, “I am Dee Dee, representing the people’s housing.”
Protesters said, in unison, “Not Cops!”
One demonstrator said, “I am Jose, representing the people’s education.”
Protesters said, in unison, “Not Cops!”
In succession, protesters identified themselves as representing “the people’s” food, health, employment, environment and safety and after each introduction, the refrain repeated: “Not Cops!”
Councilman Steve Schewel hunched in his seat, his slightly furrowed brow looking most severe. Councilmen Charlie Reese and Don Moffitt leaned forward and with off-and-on and off-again, tiny grins seemingly were either amused or tense but at the least curiously intrigued by the spectacle playing out before them.
The action grew more intense as the speakers barbed law enforcement.
“Police are tools of those in power and harass and tax our city’s poorest and most vulnerable,” the woman who identified herself as Dee Dee said.
Police Chief Davis sat calmly, listening the protesters directly behind the City Council Chamber’s overcrowded and full press row. Davis declined an opportunity to comment on the protest.
In a written release, the Durham Beyond Policing Campaign stated their demands, which were read aloud in front of the City Council: an immediate end to all license checkpoints in Durham; the discontinued use of all unmarked police vehicles; moratorium on police stops for minor traffic violations; a guarantee that the police budget will not be expanded this year; an end to all cooperation between the city of Durham and ICE.
Activist Greg Williams read a letter to the council that he said was written by a man once incarcerated in the Durham County jail whom had worked for the facility while there. “You come out to more problems than what you went in with, which is my case. And they got a lot of my labor,” he read.
A protester identifying herself as Courtney said, “Hearing no further demands, I move to adjourn this meeting.”
A protester identifying herself as Danielle said, “I second that motion.”
“All in favor?” Courtney queried.
The seven said “Aye!” altogether.
The protesters filed out of the City Council chambers and after a brief pause outside the chamber’s doors — where they yelled and chanted, danced and several banged on those doors — back outside onto the street and City Hall Plaza while chanting, “We shut, Sh– down. We shut, Sh– down.”
Then, the council began its meeting in earnest.