Demonstrators protest incident where Durham police drew guns on 3 children in a mistaken-identity case

Joel Brown Image
Saturday, September 5, 2020
Demonstrators march in Durham to protest police handcuffing boy
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Demonstrators march in Durham to protest police handcuffing boy in a mistaken-identity case.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Demonstrators gathered outside Durham City Hall on Friday night in protest of Durham PD's mistaken-identity incident that led to officers drawing guns on three boys who were playing tag outside their home.

From Mangum Street to Pettigrew and back on to Main Street, they marched through downtown Durham demanding justice for the three boys that they say were criminalized and traumatized by city police officers.

The controversy began in East Durham on August 21. Durham Police officers responded to the Rochelle Manor Apartments about a report of a suspicious man with a gun. What they found were three children. A 15, 11, and 9-year old boy playing tag.

In eyewitness video recorded by a neighbor, the officers are seen with their weapons holstered after initially arriving with the guns drawn. They ordered 15-year old Jaylin Harris to the ground, handcuffing him -- before realizing they'd made a mistake. His young friends looked on in horror and their parents arrived in outrage.

"It's scary like -- I shouldn't know what handcuffs feel like," Jaylin told ABC11 in the days after the incident. "Now that I do. It's not a good feeling."

Friday night at Durham City Hall, parents and children came to stand in solidarity. The message: "Rochelle boys matter."

"Thank you to everybody for coming out here and standing and listening to us," said 9-year old Zakaryya Cornelius, who watched as his friend was handcuffed by police that day.

His mother, Makeba Hoffler, told the crowd of about 200, "Our kids should not be targeted because of the color of their skin or where they grew up or where they live."

Jaylin also spoke, saying, "I don't want to be scared to go outside. I want to be happy. I want to be free."

His mother, Ashley, was grateful for the community support.

"it's a nightmare, and I'm just in awe at all the support and the love that we've been receiving," she said. "That's the only kind of peace we're getting right now."

The protests' grassroots organizers want DPD to release the officer body cam video, the 911 call and demand an overhaul of the city's community policing strategy.

"There's just never an instance where officers should come guns drawn to these children. Black children should feel safe to play outside their homes," said Sarah Hinton, one of the march organizers.

10-year-old Daliyah Pemberton sat listening attentively to the demonstration with a purple handwritten sign that read, 'No Justice, No Peace, No Racist Police.' She was asked by ABC11 what she wanted to happen because of the protest.

"I want (police) to apologize and change the ways that they've been behaving," the fifth-grader said.

Durham Police Chief C.J. Davis released a statement last week, expressing the department's "sincere remorse" over the incident. The chief said a thorough internal investigation is underway.

That is not good enough for the families or many in the community who are demanding more transparency, starting with the body cam videos and the 911 call.

Read the full response by the Durham Police Department here: