On September 17th, DeAndre Ballard, a 23-year-old senior at NC Central University, was shot and killed by a private security guard outside of his off-campus apartment. Even as community members demand answers, the details of the details surrounding the shooting being released are vague and inconsistent. DeAndre’s family was left in the dark about what happened to him until three days after the shooting. In the days following, there was a lack of information communicated by NCCU, the security company, N.C. Detective Agency, and Durham police. The vice president of the security company immediately conducted an interview proclaiming full support of the security guard’s actions—insisting that they were done in self defense—and NCCU came out with a statement preserving their image and completely disassociating the university from the incident.
Tragedies like DeAndre’s killing are painfully commonplace not just in the national news cycle, but also in the city of Durham—where the same structural forces that prevent accountability for police violence across the country are at work facilitating extra-judicial execution of black people just outside our campus walls. The number of Durham resident deaths at the hands of the police and in the Durham County jail are staggering. While DeAndre was killed by a guard from private security company, rather than city or state-employed officer, this agency hired by the apartment complex has its own shady past and has had three separate documented violations filed by the state since 2010. These incidents include allowing “armed guards to carry a firearm during the course of performing their duties, without first having met the qualifications of the board” and failure to “properly register armed guards.” More disturbing still, DeAndre Ballard was shot more than week ago and Durham police have yet to release any specific information on the investigation. After the shooting, the guard was placed on administrative leave for a week, but returned to work at a different site on Monday.
Issues of the militarization of police forces and the discrimination that continues to be ingrained within their construction extend far beyond DeAndre Ballard’s death, and solutions to these problems may be out of the scope of what any one person can implement. However, these events are cause for reflection on our presence as a neighbor to NCCU and our relationship to a peer institution in the same community.
News of DeAndre’s death barely trickled into the walls of Duke’s campus. Little was said of the traumatic event and even less was done. Duke students—particularly white, upper-class students—are largely insulated from from the full effects of state violence or this type of gross injustice while on campus. While the University maintains a large contract with Allied Universal, a massive security agency that brought in roughly $5.5 billion in revenue last year (in addition to maintaining a separate security force and police department), these institutions exist to shelter students from consequences and surveil Durham community members that may enter campus. The interactions between a largely white and wealthy student body and figures of authority look vastly different from the encounters between police or security guards and the citizens of cities that are as racially segregated as Durham is.
As students at a neighboring institution and residents of Durham, we ought to stand behind DeAndre’s family and peers at NCCU and be a pillar of support. The lack of this solidarity when the story of DeAndre's death broke can be chalked up to a nearly nonexistent relationship with the university, despite geographic proximity. For all of the outreach, collaboration and collegiality that exists in the relationships between Duke and UNC or with NC State, NCCU—the sole historically black university in the area—remains an outcast. The relative lack of awareness and outrage raises the question of which people we are taught to value and who is seen as worth rallying around.
It isn’t just coincidence that the reactions at Duke to the student protests at UNC and the toppling of Silent Sam rang much louder than any responses to the other grievous injustices still unfolding right outside of our walls. Our apathy, while loosely attributed to the “Duke bubble” and midterms season, is clearly a product of the selective allegiances that Duke students have chosen to create, excluding HBCUs or smaller community colleges like Durham Tech. There exists a repulsively elitist sentiment—steeped in racism and classism—that prescribes a lesser worth to NCCU as an educational institution and its students. It rears its head in conversations about the Bull City Connector, a free bus that ran between downtown and Duke which was kept from stopping at NCCU and, more alarmingly, in conversations about the Duke lacrosse case (note: the views expressed in this column may be upsetting). We must critically confront why it is that these beliefs continue to be fostered at Duke and how we can push back against their prevalence.
DeAndre Ballard’s tragic death and the events immediately surrounding it are a manifestation of a series of broken public and private systems. From a structure of authority that engages in the perpetual murder of black men and a lack of regulation that exists for private security contractors to a government and University administration that have remained steadfast in promoting their own self-interests: DeAndre has been the victim of a heinous injustice at the hands of powers that we can only hope to change. What we do have the power to change, however, is our own understanding of why even in this bastion of liberalism and exchange of ideas, we continue to devalue the lives and pain of those outside our small, immediate collegiate community. It is our moral obligation to demand justice for our peers, as well as those who are victimized by state-sanctioned or privatized forms of violence outside of Duke. Part of this is challenging the way many of us have been taught to value lives based on socioeconomic status, institutional affiliation and proximity to us.
May DeAndre rest in power and his family find justice.