Monday, November 15, 2010

How Long Lord?: Seeking Justice When Four Men Are Killed

I can’t believe it’s been five years. Five years of waiting for justice. Five long years of waiting for the judicial system to work the way we’re taught in school. It hasn’t worked.

Do you remember the news from the evening of November 19, 2005? Four young men were brutally executed that night. The community was shocked to discover the men murdered were from middle class families. They were college students with promising futures. They had no criminal records. In other words, they didn’t fit the conventional profile of black men killed.

I was shocked to get the news that Lennis Harris, Jr. was one of the men killed. Harris, 24 at the time of his death, is the son of Lennis Sr., a firefighter in Durham. Lennis and his wife, Donnamaria, are close friends. I conducted their wedding ceremony in my office close to 15 years ago, and often tease Donnamaria due to her claim that she has the best husband in the world. She might be right about that. There are few people like Lennis.

I remember weeping all day when I got the word. I also remember the agony caused by going to the funeral at the White Rock Baptist Church. I cried so hard that morning that I got there late. Too late to get a seat. People came to grieve the loss of Harris, Juan Coleman, 27, Jamel Holloway, 27, and Jonathan Skinner, 26. Each person at the church was familiar with death. We all know too well what it feels like to hear of a young black man taken too soon. There was something different this time. It hurt more than past tragedies.

It’s been five years. A year after the homicides, police charged Rodrick Venard Duncan, with four counts of first degree murder, one count of attempted murder and one count of attempted robbery. Police claim victims were the targets of a drug-related robbery. Witnesses told police they saw four men fleeing the scene of the shooting after they heard gun shots. It’s been five years, and no other arrests have been made.

“We were told the case was placed on the backburner due to the Duke Rape case,” Harris told me five years ago when I interviewed him for a story in the Independent Weekly. He was told they didn’t have enough resources to investigate both cases. The case with national exposure took precedent over the death of four black men.

After five years it’s time to march. Keep in mind that I retired from marching a few years back. I’m tired of singing “we shall overcome” and yelling “no justice, no peace”. There was a time for passive resistance, and there are times when we have to stand today. It’s not that I don’t understand the need to march. My feet have been worn by the multitude of causes that demand a protest.

This isn’t a protest. “Five years later the case is not solved, the murderers still roam the streets, the families are still deeply grieved and the community is still waiting for answers,” wrote Donnamaria Harris. “We have not forgotten.”

There will be no singing. There will be no chants. The family will lead us in a silent “Memory March” around the Durham Police Department’s administration building in downtown Durham. It takes place five years later-Friday, November 19, 2010, beginning at 7pm. We walk in silence twice in memory if each victim. Eight times. Five years later.

How long lord? How Long?