Last night, protesters in Durham, NC, were attacked by the city’s police, who were dressed in riot gear for a vigil-turned-protest.
My friend, Laurel Ashton, was driving to the vigil for Jesus Huerta, a 17-year-old who died while in police custody, when she stopped at a traffic light to see people running away from police and her car was engulfed in tear gas.
“I hope everyone is safe and far away from the police right now,” she wrote.
Huerta was in the back seat of a police car in November, arrested for trespass, when police say he shot himself in the head with a gun that did not belong to police. Since police are supposed to search people before they are placed in the car, no one knows where the gun came from or to whom it belonged.
Both Huerta’s family and police called for peaceful protest, but Thursday night’s vigil turned violent. Police say participants carried banners and shouted obscenities at them and began throwing bottles and other objects at them.
Police answered with tear gas and billy clubs, just as they did at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago.
As protesters neared police headquarters, they were met by a line of officers in riot gear, as though those in the protest were presumed to be violent.
Police knew about the vigil, and although no one had applied for a permit, they say they allowed the event to go on. But they met protesters with a barricade of officers dressed for combat. What the hell did they expect the response to be?
Nothing bad happened until after protesters were met by riot police and some of the protesters began shouting.
Those doing the shouting were in the wrong, but did they deserve being met with full force? I don’t think so. It was an over-reaction by police.
There must be a better way to do this. Are police so frightened of citizens that they have to show up to a vigil in riot gear? Do they not realize this will provoke people who already distrust them?
The whole thing could have been defused by police offering to protect vigil participants instead of attacking them. Police are supposed to keep the peace, not provoke violence.
We need answers to the questions surrounding the death of a 17-year-old who was arrested for trespassing. We do not need attacks from police on the people who are asking the questions.
We now also need answers to questions about why police over-reacted and why participants in a protest were told they would be arrested for unlawful assembly after police allowed the march to go on and why protesters were met with tear gas and billy clubs.
I’m not saying everyone in the crowd was blameless, but the response was overblown and overly violent.