In Raleigh, North Carolina, an unarmed Black man was reportedly shot to death by a white police officer while fleeing arrest, in an election season where Black deaths at the hands of law enforcement continue to dominate the public discourse.
As the Raw Story reported, Rolanda Byrd, who identified herself as the victim’s mother, told local media that “four or five people” said her son — 24-year-old Akiel Denkins, a father of two — was “shot seven times by a white officer with a bald head.” Denkins’ body was left on the ground for two hours before police confirmed he was dead, according to the Guardian.
Raleigh Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown said Denkins was running from an officer who was preparing to arrest him for a drug offense. He jumped over a fence, according to witnesses, and police shot him near a convenience store just after midnight. A gun was reportedly found near his body, though police say it is unclear whether it was in his possession. Witnesses said Denkins was unarmed.
The officer, who was identified by police as D.C. Twiddy, 29, was placed on administrative duty as dictated by department police, according to Reuters. Deck-Brown also said that within five business days, the State Bureau of Investigation and the police will investigate and report to the City Council on the incident.
A crowd gathered at the location of the man’s death, chanting “Black lives matter” as police investigated the scene with riot police present. This latest shooting speaks to a national issue affecting Black people throughout the country.
“Far too many people of color are victims of wrongful targeting and excessive use of force by law enforcement officers across the country, and North Carolina is not immune to that reality,” said Sarah Preston, acting executive director of the ACLU.
In light of the fatal shooting, the Raleigh City Council has tabled a scheduled discussion on whether to mandate body cameras for police officers. As the News & Observer reported, Deck-Brown was scheduled to discuss the pros and cons of requiring police body cameras.
“We were told that the police obviously were too busy and unable to do the presentation because of the situation,” said Mayor Nancy McFarlane, also adding that with regard to body cameras, the city is “moving toward using them.”
Since the 2014 killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, police body cameras have been offered as a solution for law enforcement reform. Last year, President Obama announced $20 million in federal funds for law enforcement agencies to acquire such cameras, and North Carolina approved $2.5 million for police departments to purchase the devices, with each agency receiving up to $100,000 for the cameras, provided it pays $2 for every $1 the state matches.
“The public and the victim’s family deserve answers about today’s shooting,” the ACLU’s Preston said to the News & Observer. “On a day when the Raleigh City Council was scheduled to discuss officer-worn body cameras, this shooting points to the urgent need for North Carolina’s second-largest city’s police department to adopt this crucial technology and an accompanying policy that guarantees it will be used to promote officer accountability and transparency.”
As is the case when these tragic shootings occur, pro-police factions blame the victim. Florida-based radio show host and former NYPD cop John Cardillo tweeted that Denkins “pulled a gun” on Officer Twiddy. He responded to those who were critical of his characterization of Denkins by saying that “Hitler was also special to someone.”
That’s what happens when a career criminal draws a gun on cops. https://t.co/i5uoW3ARaF
— John Cardillo (@johncardillo) March 1, 2016
Meanwhile, Black people in Raleigh are protesting, as issues of police tactics and the need for accountability are coming into full view. Religious leaders held a vigil with 300 or more people in attendance.
“I was at work when I heard about it,” said Jay, a former resident of the area who lives nearby, to the Guardian. “And when I heard about it, it was nothing new to me. Police officers, this is what they always do.”
“When one of us dies, nothing’s done about it,” Jay added. “Where are the good cops when the bad cops are around?”
“People here ain’t stupid. They might not have a good education but they know what’s going on,” said another unnamed man, who was pleased the issue of police brutality is being discussed more widely. “It’s happening here, it’s happening everywhere.”
Minister Diana Powell said, “This young man, he lost his life. And his life matters, and all of our lives matter.”
She emphasized the need for the community to act responsibly.
“This is a defining moment, and we don’t want to mess it up.”
Powell added, “They expect us to act up, they expect us to act the fool, but we are better than that.”
Churches and mosques have pledged to raise money to support Denkins’ family.