“Durham should be a harm-free zone. Durham should be a safe place for all children.”
So said Durham mom Omisade Burney-Scott to CBS-affiliate WRAL in response to the death of a teenager, Jesús Huerta, who was shot and killed while sitting in the back of a police car on November 19th. Jesús’s family, friends and community members gathered in downtown Durham for a candle-lit prayer vigil last Thursday, seeking answers in his death. They were met with police, dressed in riot gear, who used tear gas and batons to disperse the crowd that included families with small children.
As mothers, Jesús’s story hits us hard. We should never have to fear that our children would come to harm at the hands of those charged with protecting them. As Burney-Scott added, “I really can't imagine, as a mother of two boys, what [Jesús’s mother’s] heart feels and to want to be public with her prayer for peace, for answers to her questions.”
Certainly, tear-gasing the community, including mothers and children, shouldn’t be the answer.
Please join us at MomsRising in calling on the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to launch a civil rights investigation of the Durham Police Department. You can sign the petition here.
How did this all begin? The police picked up Jesús just a couple of blocks from his home allegedly for the offense of trespassing – the lowest class of a misdemeanor. The officer could have written a citation and brought Jesús to his family. Instead, they brought Jesús to the Durham Police Department, where he died while in their custody.
The Durham police concede that 17-year-old Jesús was shot while sitting in the back of a police car. And they also concede that the teenager was handcuffed at the time he was shot. But they say he shot himself, an explanation that leaves more questions than answers.
There is a troubling pattern emerging in Durham. Jesús is the second Latino and third youth or man of color to die in the presence of Durham police since July. You can read about these incidents here and here. The Police Chief is also being investigated by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for failing to hire and promote officers of color, following a complaint by the Deputy Police Chief. And, according to the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, evidence strongly suggests that the Durham Police Department uses racial profiling in traffic stops.
Enough is enough.
Urge the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to launch a civil rights investigation of the Durham Police Department. You can click on the petition here.
The DOJ has the power to take over and reform local police departments that show a pattern or practice of behavior that violates civil rights. A DOJ investigation could not only get to the bottom of what happened to Jesús — it could prevent what happened to Jesús from happening to other teenagers, especially young Latino men and other men of color.
Every mother deserves to know that her city is a harm-free zone for her children and all children.
Jesús’ mother deserves to know the truth.
Don't forget to click here to urge the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to launch a civil rights investigation of the Durham Police Department.
And please forward this petition to friends and family so that they can take action, too. Thank you!
P.S. Thank you to our partners at Presente.org for their work in support of the Huerta family.