Raleigh advocates hope for 'progress' on police relations after heated city council meeting

Joel Brown Image
Thursday, September 6, 2018

RALEIGH, NC (WTVD) -- Inside The Lighthouse in Raleigh sat a coalition of community advocates strategizing about what's next after emotions boiled over in Raleigh city council about police accountability.

"We know that eventually, this volcano would explode," said Justice Served NC executive director Diana Powell, referring to the tearful outrage from the mother of a man killed by Raleigh Police.

"I'm sick of it! Every time we come here, you got an attitude!" Rolanda Byrd told the council Tuesday night after what she saw as the council's dismissiveness as members of the community demanded more oversight for the city's police force.

Byrd's son, Akiel Denkins was shot and killed in 2016 by an RPD officer. The shooting was ruled justified by the Wake County District Attorney.

"I found it disgusting that no one from the council was willing to acknowledge the pain that she was in," said Dawn Blagrove, executive director of Carolina Justice Policy Center. "(Byrd) was treated with in my opinion, disdain -- as though she were bothersome."

Kerwin Pittman, a member of Justice Served, addressed city councilors as well Tuesday and says he was struck by what he viewed as a lack of empathy with a still-grieving mother.

"I identified with her as my mother as she was grieving and so as a black male, it hit home because I realize at any moment, I could've been her son," he said.

A central issue is a lack of trust between Raleigh's black and brown communities and its police force.

These advocates want the city to adopt a citizen's advisory board; everyday citizens appointed to a panel to advise in hiring officers and would have a role in investigating and reprimanding alleged police misconduct.

"It's about either you want to be proactive about getting in front of the problem or reactive and see what's gonna happen to your city," said Wanda Hunter, a community advocate.

Powell says after the tensions Tuesday night -- she was invited to a closed-door meeting Wednesday with some city and state leaders. She says it's too early to talk specifics.

"It is ongoing," Powell told us, protective of the details.

When asked if progress was made, Powell answered, "I hope so".

Blagrove added, "There has to be (progress)."

These advocates stress this is about more than a better relationship with police. They say issues of homelessness, mental illness, drug addiction and affordable housing that are equally important components as well.

Amid all the miscommunication last night, that was one point that Mayor Nancy McFarlane acknowledged as well.