Durham protests lead to more downtown damage

Police chief leaving for Memphis after 5 years

The Durham County Courthouse is featured in this courtesy photo.

DURHAM — Downtown Durham saw a fresh wave of unrest in the city over the weekend, with many storefronts suffering broken windows and graffiti. The damage comes after the city had begun to recover from a year that saw many businesses boarded up and shut down from violent demonstrations and COVID restrictions.

A pig with an “X” through it was spray-painted on the Durham Police Department headquarters sign; a fire was set at the same location; an American flag was burned; “Death to America” was spray-painted nearby; multiple businesses were vandalized with graffiti and by having their storefront glass smashed; and demonstrators jumped over barriers to yell at and intimidate patrons dining outside.

“During the protest Friday night, we received reports of vandalism which included broken windows and graffiti,” Lieutenant G. L. Minor of DPD’s public affairs unit told NSJ. “No arrests have been made at this time. The Durham Police Department will continue to facilitate the rights of our residents to protest but will be ready to respond as necessary to maintain order and safety for all.”

The restaurant Copa on Main Street was the scene of a particularly tense situation, as protesters jumped over barriers and intimidated the outdoor diners, smashing glasses and plates in the process.

“No one was injured. The diners moved inside and were gracious about the whole incident,” Copa management told NSJ. “They all even refused our offers to comp their whole checks. We did have more cancellations than usual on Saturday and at least one party referenced the protests.”

Rock’s Bar and Hair Shop, in the same block, told NSJ, “We did not sustain any damage. We understand and stand by these protests, however we do not see the point or purpose of destruction of property. That said, we will always consider people more important than property.”

Bill Browning, a real estate lawyer with a Main Street Durham location, told NSJ in a phone interview, “We had a broken window and some graffiti written on the front.”

Browning said he wasn’t present on site when the demonstrators passed through, but received a call from the owner of a neighboring property, whose alarm had been triggered. The neighbor told Browning that his property had been damaged, so he came down to board up.

“I imagine mine is going to be boarded up for a short while,” Browning said. “The amazing part is when all this was going on people were all just milling around outside like it was business as usual, and then other folks were working on cleaning up debris from their broken windows and boarding up.”

He didn’t blame the police for leaving their businesses unprotected, saying, “In speaking with one of the police officers, he indicated it was something that came up rather quickly. So, maybe it caught them off guard. But I’m not sure how much direction there is from above saying get involved or don’t get involved.”

He added, “I think the police want to do a good job and the sheriffs want to do a good job, but sometimes their hands are tied.”

The Durham Chamber of Commerce told NSJ that they “always will support our community’s right to assemble peacefully and we continue to be proud and encouraged when members of our community come together in peaceful demonstration to make their voices heard. We do not know the extent of damages to businesses but will note that the businesses in downtown Durham that remained boarded up last year, did so in support of Durham artists who used the boards as canvases to show solidarity. So, we remain encouraged by continued interest in Durham as a place to live, work, play, and do business.”

Browning said, “It’s hard to tell if it affects commerce,” when asked what effect this kind of vandalism has on Durham businesses. “I feel safe and all that, but the hard part is trying to make sure that your business doesn’t suffer from the standpoint of having something broken, destroyed, burnt up or whatever.”

The crowds gathered after far-left activist group Durham BURN called for people to protest recent police shootings that they believe are unjust or racist. Many of those who showed up wore “antifa-style” costumes, dressed in black from head to toe.

Durham BURN got in a war of words with the city’s mayor, Steve Schewel, after a protest last September when Schewel said that white anarchists causing vandalism downtown had co-opted the racial justice movement.

Durham BURN responded by saying they were run by people of color, and, “The white person ‘co-opting the racial justice movement for their own purposes’ in Durham right now is Steve Schewel, who wants to erase Black, Indigenous, and other people of color’s radical politics, bold actions, and intentional community organizing work.”

The group’s social media accounts advocate the abolition of police and prisons, as well as for the elimination of rent for lower-income residents, citing exploitative landlords and gentrification.

Their message organizing the protest read, “SHUT IT DOWN FOR DAUNTE & JAIDA! TOMORROW 7pm FRIDAY 4/16 510 S. Dillard St!” The address mentioned is for the Durham County Courthouse.

In Raleigh, a similar protest occurred downtown Saturday. According to the Associated Press, around 100 people marched in the downtown area and then began pelting eggs at media and police, leading to the arrest of 12 demonstrators. An American flag was burned and other minor incidents reported before police dispersed the crowd.

Both Raleigh and Durham are also dealing with the departures of their respective chiefs of police. On Monday, Durham Police Chief C.J. Davis announced she was taking a chief position in Memphis, Tennessee, after five years heading the DPD. The Raleigh chief, Cassandra Deck-Brown, is retiring in June.