The Daily Tar Heel

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Wednesday October 5th

Durham residents hold vigil for victims of police brutality

Nicky Souter (left), Braylen McCants (3) and Chay Shegog prepare posters for the National Moment of Silence for Victims of Police Brutality in Durham on Thursday evening. "It always hit so close to home," Shegog explains. "My family is from St. Louis and it could have been my cousin, my grandfather, anyone!"
Buy Photos Nicky Souter (left), Braylen McCants (3) and Chay Shegog prepare posters for the National Moment of Silence for Victims of Police Brutality in Durham on Thursday evening. "It always hit so close to home," Shegog explains. "My family is from St. Louis and it could have been my cousin, my grandfather, anyone!"

Hundreds raised their arms in solidarity during a vigil held in Durham Thursday night for victims of police brutality in Ferguson, Mo. 

More than 200 people attended the vigil, organized by Durham activists as part of the larger social media-driven national moment of silence for those who have been killed or assaulted by police officers across the country. 

The movement was sparked by the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black resident who was shot several times and killed by a Ferguson police officer Saturday. 

Following his death, riots broke out in Ferguson. Police response to the riots has been described by social justice activists as an excessive use of force, and activists across the country have been inspired to protest police brutality.

Durham-based activist Lamont Lilly said the Durham event was organized in the space of two days and urged the importance of community gatherings like the vigil around the issue of police violence and other racially-motivated violence. 

"There are stray cats and dogs that are treated better than black people," Lilly said.

Pierce Freelon, a musician, journalist and professor at North Carolina Central University, performed a slam poem titled "Captain America" about white supremacy and racial violence in the United States. 

"Red blood, white skin, blue eyes, million-dollar corporate smile," Freelon said, describing America's superhero. "Somebody asked me the other day what it's like to be black in America. I thought about it for a minute and then I responded, 'Captain America, click clack, Captain America, click clack, we are capped in America.'"

Among the speakers at the vigil was Nia Wilson, executive director of Durham's SpiritHouse, a cultural arts and civic engagement organization working to fight systemic racism. 

Wilson said many Durham activists have been fighting this battle for decades.

"We've been doing this work, we've been facing up the mayor and city council," she said. "We've been organizing around racial profiling and police brutality for several years, and we have been calling you — we have been begging you — to show up."

Fliers circulated at the event asking attendees to come to Durham's city hall on Aug. 21 for a public discussion of Durham's plans to address discriminatory racial profiling among Durham's police force.

Durham resident Mario Taylor, who attended the protest, said the best way to effect change is to organize. 

"It's about community, it's about people," Taylor said. "Everybody's got to be willing to stand up and not take it anymore."

Taylor and his family came out to the vigil in support of 26-year-old Derek Walker, who was shot and killed by police during a standoff in Durham in 2013. 

UNC junior Ishmael Bishop said he attended the vigil to act in solidarity with a movement that has been active since the 2012 death of Trayvon Martin, a black teenager who was shot and killed by a member of a neighborhood watch group in Sanford, Fla. Martin has since become a symbol of racially motivated violence. 

"I am not surprised by police brutality, in a country where white supremacy is the rule and racism and sexism are the trend," said Bishop, who is a columnist for The Daily Tar Heel.

"I, as a person of color, walk the streets afraid. Afraid of the dark, afraid of community watch signs, and terrified of a police uniform and badge. I don't know if this officer is more afraid of me or am I of him — either way, someone is afraid."

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