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Language Matters: Reforming Policy in Durham

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, and then you win.”~ Mahatma Gandhi

Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez
Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez

Sticks and stones may break our bones, but we don’t like being called names either. Who does, and what does it say about the name-callers? As the year winds down, we look back at the work of the FADE Coalition. What we see is an ugly unfortunate and perhaps a predictable pattern of name calling by city officials to discredit our work.

It started with Durham Police Chief Lopez referring to FADE Coalition members as “detractors” at the second Human Relations Committee hearing (HRC) in October. Now, it continues with the announcement of an upcoming community forum for the Citizen’s Police Review Board (CPRB). Speaking to Jim Wise of the Durham News, Review Board member Cynthia Walls said “I have no problem with a public input session, but it’s important to make it clear we don’t want the same complaints the Human Relations Commission is hearing.” Board Member David Harris piled on, saying of the upcoming forum, “This is not a gripe session.”

The “complaints” and “gripes” they refer to involve data provided by the Durham NAACP revealing that between 2004-2009, 75% of civilian complaints filed with the Durham Police Department were dismissed by the Internal Affairs/Professional Standards Division. During that same period, the CPRB received only five appeals and held no hearings at all. Furthermore, between the years 2010 and 2012, DPD received nearly two hundred citizen complaints, though only 20% of these complaints were sustained. While a number of individuals filed timely appeals of their dismissals, the Board granted only one request for a formal appeal hearing during this period.

More generally, we weren’t aware that providing empirical data and personal narratives of racial profiling and police misconduct constituted “gripes.” Nor were we aware that the mothers, lawyers, researchers, organizers, pastors and community members of the FADE coalition could be reduced to the term “detractor”. Chief Lopez, in remarks made about FADE in the Police Department’s December report to HRC, questioned the legitimacy of the coalition as a voice of the community, attempting to minimize our status as long-time Durham residents and engaged community members. The report further states, “we submit…that any alleged broad community concern is being manufactured rather than growing.” More name-calling and just outright dismissal of our long-standing efforts in order to distract from the heart of the matter.

But in the spirit of Gandhi, we accept the name-calling with pride, with a sense that we are making an impact and with the confidence that we will prevail no matter what they call us.

We encourage you to review the document FADE Coalition Policy Recommendationsto the Durham Human Relations Commission.  It reflects an enormous amount of careful research, input, collaboration and thought. And we promise that you will find no gripes, complaints or detractions in it.

Written by Meredith McMonigle

Meredith McMonigle is a macro social work intern with the Southern Coalition of Social Justice in Durham, NC. SCSJ partners with communities of color and economically disadvantaged communities in the south to defend and advance their political, social and economic rights through the combination of legal advocacy, research, organizing and communications.