A number of Duke students were among those arrested Friday night in a downtown protest reacting to recent national conversations on police violence and race relations.
More than 200 demonstrators from across North Carolina, including a number of Duke students and faculty, rallied to protest the recent non-indictment of police officers involved in the killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. and Eric Garner in New York City. As demonstrations moved through Durham, a number of protesters were arrested, with some protesters later reporting harsh treatment by police. Several downtown streets were shut down during the protests, Durham police reported. Police also reported finding an explosive device at the site of the demonstrations on Saturday.
Demonstrators gathered on the CCB Plaza and marched toward the Durham Performing Arts Center and the Durham County Detention Center, where they created a human shield between the two buildings and laid down in front of the buildings as part of a "die-in." Protesters then attempted to move onto the Durham Freeway, but were blocked by police who directed them back toward downtown.
In total, 31 demonstrators were arrested in downtown Durham—a number of whom were Duke students. Although the protests were largely peaceful, some participants reported acts of police brutality and aggressive behavior from a minority of demonstrators.
Several student participants in the demonstration said that the police, which met demonstrators downtown in riot gear, were more intense than was necessary for a peaceful protest and indiscriminate with arrests.
"The situation was quite tense," sophomore Carolyn Yao, who participated in the protests, wrote in an email Saturday. "We couldn't quite put everything together. What were we doing that was so unlawful? We were protesting peacefully, and with the exception of congregating and disrupting traffic, we were exercising our freedom of expression."
Police closed in on demonstrators from both sides of the block at the intersection of Rigsbee Avenue and Geer Street, effectively trapping protestors, said sophomore John Victor Alencar, a participant in the demonstration. There was no way to disperse but to push through, he added, which was when most people got arrested.
Durham Police Department Chief Jose Lopez could not immediately be reached for comment by The Chronicle.
In an interview with WTVD News Saturday, Lopez said that police did not take action against the protesters until the demonstrations blocked streets and became dangerous.
"When they go into different locations trying to disrupt private business and private places, we ask them to leave," Lopez said in the interview. "If they continue to try to bypass the police department then arrests have to be made."
At the intersection of Rigsbee Ave. and Geer St., police arrested demonstrators who were attempting to leave or were standing on a public sidewalk, Yao said. The riot gear made it impossible for demonstrators to identify and hold accountable police officers who were acting aggressively, she added.
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Adrienne Harreveld, Trinity ’14 and a research associate at the Sanford School of Public Policy, was arrested by police when she asked for an officer’s badge number after witnessing him apprehend a woman aggressively.
“I walked up to one of the police officers and I asked him for his badge number, and they pulled me down to the ground and started kneeing me in the stomach,” she recalled.
Harreveld and the other demonstrators who were arrested were taken to the police station, where they waited for several hours before being charged with failure to disperse and impeding the flow of traffic. The majority of those arrested seemed to be white women, she said.
During one point at the police station, Harreveld said she was alone with five male police officers who questioned her views on white supremacy. A number of the officers attempted to engage her in debate over the demonstration’s objectives, she said.
“At one point in time, an officer whose name I don’t know was just sort of pointing out, like ‘What do you want us to do if black people just commit more crime?’” Harreveld said.
Although the majority of demonstrators protested peacefully, a minority behaved aggressively toward police. These demonstrators “made a lot of people uncomfortable,” she added, because they had firecrackers and were dressed up in masks and dark clothes.
“There were people who were from Occupy Chapel Hill-Carrboro who had different objectives from a lot of the protestors—particularly the Duke protestors,” she said. “They had a lot of anti-state sentiments.”
The small, non-peaceful minority were self-proclaimed anarchists who used the protest as a "veil for their own agenda," senior Jonathan Hill-Rorie, a member of The Chronicle's Editorial Board, wrote in a Facebook message Saturday, adding that most of the demonstration was "peaceful but disruptive."
A number of the demonstrators wore masks, said senior Brendane Tynes, who recalled at one point witnessing two men in masks retreat into a corner to take off their protest attire and melt back into the crowd.
“I don’t know who they are, and they made sure that no one knew who they were,” Tynes said. “They knew that they were going to do destructive things and they didn’t want to be identified while they were doing them.”
The non-peaceful demonstrators, a majority of whom were white, made all of the demonstrators seem violent, she added.
“The black people and the brown people would have to endure the repercussions for using that white privilege and that mode of thinking to attack other people,” Tynes said. “It distorted the purpose, distorted our mission, and it hurts because it’s already bad enough that there are stereotypes about black people and about how violent we are. For it to be white people to be doing this violent work, for it to be put on us—what can we do about that?”
Police reported finding an “undetonated explosive device” Saturday between West Geer and West Corporation Streets, where a number of protestors were arrested, according the News & Observer.
The bottle with a wick and an apparent petroleum-based liquid was safely removed, said police spokeswoman Kammie Michael.
The Durham demonstration occurred in conjunction with protests in New York, California, Missouri and elsewhere across the country.
Aleena Karediya contributed reporting.