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'Rochelle Boys Matter': Mothers protest Durham police violence toward Black children

Ashley Harris.jpg
Ashley Harris speaks at a #RochelleBoysMatter protest and march in Durham Sept. 4, 2020. The protest was held after police allegedly drew their weapons on three boys playing in an east Durham apartment complex.

Protesters marched to Durham Police Department headquarters Friday to accuse five officers of drawing their weapons on three Black children aged 8, 11 and 15 outside their homes in Rochelle Manor apartments on Aug. 21. 

The eldest, Jaylin Harris, ended up in handcuffs because he fit an alleged description of a suspect. According to a letter written by Durham Police Chief Cerelyn Davis, he was mistaken for a “suspicious person with a weapon.” 

Over 100 protesters, including several parents with young children, came out and chanted slogans like “Rochelle boys matter” and “Black moms matter.” The organizers demanded body camera footage of the incident, the phone call which dispatched officers to the scene and commitment from Durham Police Department to reform community policing.

“Aside from transparency, the very bare minimum of speaking directly to these moms, we want to know that Durham police is committed to doing the work,” organizer Sarah Hinton said.

The protest began at Durham City Hall. Ashley Harris, Jaylin’s mother, and Makeba Hoffler, mother of Zakarryya Cornelius, the eight year-old confronted by police, spoke to demonstrators with their sons.

Harris said they want city officials to hold people accountable. 

"We have to pull that from them,” she said. 

Harris said the past weeks have been overwhelming. She’s had meltdowns, but said protesters’ support and love fuels her. 

“When you wrong somebody you make it right, you fix it. And they're not trying to do that,” Harris said. “Home doesn't feel like home. They robbed us of our peace of mind, his childhood.”

The night’s events began at Durham City Hall and followed previous protests. In front of the glass walls of the police department headquarters, Harris shouted to crowds that they would return every week. Some police inside the building watched the crowd from floors above.

“I pray that we can become the Durham that we think we are,” Hinton said. “That Black children can play outside and be safe in front of their homes.” 

She said she wished the officers responsible were on unpaid leave, not patrolling Durham streets.

Another individual who spoke at the gathering in front of Durham’s City Hall was Alexandra Valladares, Durham Public Schools at-large board member.

Valladares spoke to emphasize unity, harping on the importance of respecting the community spaces where the police patrol. In the incident at Rochelle Manor, she said, the police engaged with the community in an intrusive manner, doing what they wanted to do without the community respect.

“There’s relationships, there's family, there’s sacredness of community in these places,” she said. “They need to respect these places and the families and children in these places.” 

Valladares said racism has manifested into a public health crisis. She cited the predisposition of young children to experience violence and hostility, as displayed by Durham’s police drawing weapons on the three children.

Elizabeth Reid, a 50-year-old mother living in south Durham, said she decided to come after getting called out in a parent group on Facebook. 

Hinton urged protesters to take their momentum away from the streets and into their homes, to call the police station, city councilors, and other elected officials. 

“You can vote people into office that care about Black lives,” she said.

Organizers said another protest would be held the following Friday, Sept. 11. 

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Salim Fayeq

Salim Fayeq is City & State reporter for The Daily Tar Heel.