Thursday, December 27, 2012

Durham police department has a public relation problem: Police brutality

Jose Lopez, Durham’s chief of police, needs to take a class on public relations.  It would help if a few members of his team would join him before people resort to calling the police “pigs”.

One of the principles of public relations is perception can be more troubling than reality.  Durham’s Police Department has a major problem due to claims of police brutality.  The troubling accusation is trumped by the silence of Lopez.

The first incident involves the case of Stephanie Nickerson, a Chapel Hill resident who claims she was beaten by Cpl. Brian Schnee when police responded to a noise complaint on Oct. 28.

Pictures of Nickerson’s battered face rapidly spread on the internet along with a petition asking Lopez to fire Schnee.  Protesters have showed up at police headquarters on Tuesday’s to protest a lack of attention to the incident.

Lopez claims an investigation is underway, and the group is interfering with progress.  Meanwhile, Nickerson faces charges of resisting an officer and assaulting a government official. She’s set to appear in court on Jan. 24.

The confrontation began after police arrived at Nickerson’s friend’s house after a call about a disturbance.  When police asked to search the house, Nickerson told her friend she didn’t have to let the police in because they didn’t have a warrant.  That’s when police are alleged to have become aggressive.

The police officer was caught on a cell phone video. Although dark and blurry, a voice can be heard demanding, “Don’t hit her man, don’t hit her. Come on bro, that’s a female.”

The second incident caught the attention of Boots Riley, the leader of The Coup, a West Coast hip-hop group.  Riley is the cousin of Carlos Antonio Riley, Jr., who is accused of shooting of a Durham police officer.

“Need help from any folks doing social-justice work in the Durham area to help us expose this case of a victim of police brutality defending,” Boots Riley posted on his Facebook page on Monday.

The LA Times recently listed The Coup’s “Sorry to Bother You” in their Top Ten Albums of 2012. Boots Riley has Durham’s roots.  He is the son of Walter P. Riley, a Durham native who joined the NAACP statewide campaigns for jobs, voting rights and desegregation, including lunch counters before moving to California in 1965.

Walter became a lawyer and established a practice in downtown Oakland, handling criminal defense, employment discrimination and police misconduct cases. On April 27, 2013, The National Lawyer Guild of the San Francisco Bay will honor Walter for fighting for justice for more than 50 years. Lopez and the police department are entangled in a fight with a family trained in confronting police corruption.  It would be wise for them to speak.

The police claim Officer Kelly A. Stewart was shot Dec. 18 while wrestling with Riley Jr. in the Forest Pointe Apartments off Broad Street.  Stewart suffered a leg wound.

Riley Jr. has been charged with assault on a law-enforcement officer, possession of a firearm by a felon and robbery with a dangerous weapon. Riley Jr. is serving 24 months’ probation for a 2011 conviction of possession and selling cocaine.

Boots Riley posted on Facebook that Stewart began firing as he pulled his gun. He stated that Stewart “shouted expletives, physically attacked Carlos, verbally threatened to kill him and attempted to draw his weapon to shoot at my cousin.”

Boots Riley has been reared in a culture where police brutality is common course.  Oakland is the home of the Black Panther Party.  Oakland knows police brutality and corruption like Durham knows warehouse blues.  They are tied together.

Boots Riley’s comments may be over the top.  The truth involving Stephanie Nickerson will unfold over the coming weeks.  In the meantime, the police department is building a reputation that needs to be corrected through a solid public relations campaign.

Expect a hip-hop song performed by The Coup. Imagine the negative press after the release of a hip-hop song about Durham combined with national attention after pictures of Nickerson’s battered face explodes on the internet. 

The truth doesn’t matter when the people think something stinks.

The only way to stop it is to listen and speak.  You have to do the hard work before it’s too late.

The clock is ticking.



  1. "The truth doesn't matter when something stinks"?

    This statement implies that you think the DPD has nothing to hide. The reason things "smell" bad is because simply Lopez isn't being transparent enough. If he would break his silence and let us know the truth it would (obviously) be that the police did no wrong and we can put all these silly accusations of police brutality behind us.

    It seems just as likely that the DPD knows their officers were out of line and they are simply waiting for public anger to subside and get distracted. Then they will quietly deal with the "bad apple", issue a bland mea culpa, promise changes, and then resume their assaults on the community.

    We all know "good cops" who mean and do well in the community. We also all know that some members of the community act in truly criminal ways. However, this does not negate the fact that the Police exist as an institution to keep the poor in their place.

  2. "However, this does not negate the fact that the Police exist as an institution to keep the poor in their place."

    Matherly continually shows the bias that infects virtually all of his comments. Steve, if your speech cannot be free of bias, why would you expect to convince anyone who doesn't already think like you do? Virtually all of your statements are borne of your opinions rather than facts.

    Where is the evidence to support "the fact" that police exist only to "keep the poor in their place"? The statement that Matherly knows some "good cops" is similar to those who claim friendship with "some blacks." Both statements indicate that the majority of those groups are to be thought of as "the other," with only a few safe members of an otherwise nefarious group.

    At least Matherly admits that some community members do commit crimes. But he doesn't mention that the vast majority of crimes by black or poor people (the terms are not synonymous) are against black and/or poor people. Should the police just abandon those communities to self destruction, and only arrest those who come off the "reservation" into more prosperous areas of the city? Now THAT would be keeping the poor in their place.

    Matherly must surely be aware that criminals rarely tell the truth about their actions. They invariably accuse someone else, cite bad circumstances, or invoke prejudicial activity. Nickerson claims brutality while other witnesses say she was extremely violent. Perhaps even Matherly might have punched her in the face if she had attacked him in a similar manner. Everyone in this incident has rights, prohibiting any instant judgement until all parties and witnesses have been allowed to present their position. And, Nickerson has not been cooperative in this process.

    Why don't we all take a deep breath and let the investigative process conclude? To indict Chief Lopez or the police in general because they didn't come to an instant public judgement before the facts are known only shows predudicial thinking, and lack of respect for the rights of both Nickerson and the police.

    1. Dear Anonymous:

      First of all you need to use your real name. Posting as Anonymous shows that you are a coward and don't have the courage of your convictions.

      Let’s take your assertions one at a time:


      Please address me as Mr. Matherly. We haven’t even been introduced and you won’t give your name so I’m at a disadvantage. Besides, the name is Steven.

      I admit that I am biased toward a young unarmed woman who is presumed innocent. The burden of proof falls on the cops.


      The proof is the extent to which poor and minority (notice the AND – that means they are two different categories despite your attempt to conflate the two) persons represent a percentage of the prison population far greater than their percentage of the population. Now, unless you’re saying that the poor and minorities are more prone to criminal activities than other groups (and you wouldn’t say that because it would be racist and expose your class bias) then it appears to me that the police are targeting them. Now, why would that be?


      Again, please address me as Mr. Matherly until we’ve been properly introduced. Passion is no excuse for bad manners.

      Now, where were we? Oh, yes -Zing! You just called me a racist, didn’t you? Well done! I guess it’s true that the best defense is a good offense. Or, as the 5 year old set says “I’m rubber and yer glue…).

      Let me break it down for you. Lots of folks have family or friends who are cops. These cops may be kind to their mothers and make it to every school play but when they put on that uniform they are giving their bodies and minds to an organization that has as its primary goal to keep the rich safe from the poor (many of whom are also black and brown). See above for explanation of why I believe this.

      See next entry for the rest of my comment

    2. This is a continuation of my previous post
      Steven Matherly


      I saw a great tee shirt once the said “Africa Isn’t Poor – It’s Being Looted”

      When I was very young I was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. It was during the height of the Apartheid Regime. My father has altered his views in recent years but I remember him saying that if the Whites were to withdraw and give the country over to the Blacks they would simply murder each other. Therefore, White subjugation was actually in the Black’s own best interest – to keep them from reverting to being the savages they were before the Whites saved them from themselves.

      To be honest I can’t quite wrap my mind around what your argument is here. Is it that the police need to save Black folks from themselves? If so then that is clearly racist. Or are you saying that there are some good Black folks and some bad Black folks and one needs protection from the other. If that’s true then why are so many innocent Black folks being rounded up with all the “bad” Black folks. If you are denying that racial profiling and prejudice exist then you’re both ignorant and racist.


      True, absolutely true and I would say you’ve got me there except that we’re not talking about a criminal here. We’re talking about a young woman who has been accused of something. The burden is on the police to prove what they are charging her with. She is “innocent until proven guilty”. But I’m repeating myself.


      You put forth this little nugget as, what, some kind of proof that Ms. Nickerson is lying or that there might be another side to the story? Whatever happened to letting the investigation run its course? Also, if the “other witnesses” are police …. Well, let’s just let the investigation take its course, right?


      To begin with I have yet to hear (except from your fevered brain) that Ms. Nickerson “attacked” anyone. I had the impression that even the police assert that she was “resisting”.

      Anyway, years ago I worked as a Mental Health Worker – some might call it an Orderly position. I was big and strong and we would have to “take down” out of control patients on a regular basis. We were trained how to do it without injuring them or ourselves. We were good at it, too. This cop underwent similar training at the academy. It’s odd that he felt the need to punch her in the face repeatedly in order to subdue her. Even when a particularly violent and psychotic patient sank her teeth into my arm (I can still tell when a low pressure system is approaching by the feeling in my left elbow) even then I didn’t feel the need to beat her down like this cop did. He was just pissed that she knew the law and had the nerve to quote it to him.

      See the continuation in the next post.

    3. Okay, last installment. Sorry it took so long Carl but this guy threw everything but the kitchen sink at me.

      Steven Matherly


      Ms. Nickerson has been charged with some serious offenses so I would advise her not to cooperate with the cops in any way – they can talk to her lawyer (I always yell that at the idiots on Law and Order but they insist on blabbing their life story to the cops who are trying to convict them). However, I suspect you’re referring to reports that she didn’t submit a complaint against the officer in a timely fashion. Well, the cops are lying - she did submit a report within a couple of days. Okay, I’ll be nicer – maybe they weren’t lying maybe they’re just incompetent. Either way that complaint was filed and they had it in hand when they told the press they didn’t. Now that I think of it that really does qualify as a lie.


      Why? Because the cops are taking this time to get their lies straight so they can protect what little legitimacy they have left with the public. It is standard operating procedure in police brutality cases to delay things by taking forever to do an internal investigation. Then, when the public uproar has died down they promote or pension off the “bad apple” or give him a reprimand at worst. A cop that beats up a civilian never goes to court to face justice the way you or I would if we beat up our neighbor when his dog craps on our lawn.

    4. First, an apology to Mr. Steven Matherly for using familiar forms of address such as "Steve" and "Matherly" that imply a familiarity or closeness that doesn't exist because he doesn't know my name. I might think such uses as trivial, since I don't identify with the victimhood philosophy of faux disrespect, but I should have not taken the liberty of personal address.

      I also agree that there is some level of cowardice by using "Anonymous," although, as a public figure, there are some practical considerations involved. When the issue is important, I will and have been forthright in using my name, but not always in small forums such as these.

      You admit your bias in the Nickerson incident because you are inclined to support a young black woman instead of a police officer because of your belief about what police officers do on a daily basis. I will wait for the facts to be known. I got burned by believing Crystal Mangum before those facts were known, so I'm now more cautious. I am also aware that these investigations take time, because everyone involved has to schedule a deposition with their lawyer and the police department internal affairs division. As such, I don't take the lack of immediate reprisal against the police officer as a sign that the police are merely taking time to minimize the potential offense.

      And, yes, I did suggest that there might actually be TWO sides to the story. I'm waiting to hear them before passing judgement. I want to know what police procedure is when being called to a site of domestic disturbance. Do they take the word of who answers the door that there's nothing actually going on? Are they required to make sure all persons in the home/apartment are okay before departing? What actions are they supposed to take if someone bars them from potentially protecting a victim inside that doesn't answer the door? I haven't heard the answers to these questions yet. If the answers indicate the policeman in question was in the wrong, string him up.

      Let's get back to the main subject of my reply to your initial post - your view that the police only exist to keep the poor in their place.

      First, you made a major mistake in implying that I conflated both poor and minority. A re-reading of my comments would show I said that "the terms are not synonymous."


      Second, I asked for facts supporting your contention about the police existing to keep the poor in their place. Instead, you replied that the poor and minorities make up a percentage of the prison population larger than their percentage in the general population. You explained your belief that this could only be true because police were targeting the poor and minorities, and that to actually think that the poor and minority population were actually committing more crimes was racist. Rev. Carl Kenney, in a blog post many years ago, reputed this very belief. Yes, there are some racist cops, yes racism is still alive in our country, and yes a number of black men/women have been unfairly convicted in the past, but there are no actual figures that prove your larger point. Numerical correlation is not a proof of causation. But it makes for good victimhood.

      The line between adverse racial profiling and common sense is often hard to distinguish, especially for those of us who don't put our lives on the line and have to make split second critical decisions. Carl, himself admitted to crossing the street when a gang of toughs loomed ahead. I would wager that Mr. Steven Matherly would hesitate entering a Klan meeting house. Profiling or common sense? I agree with you that some uncalled for racial profiling exists. That doesn't make every arrest or police action racially motivated.

      You describe foks who have family or friends who are police officers that are exemplary human beings until they put on their uniforms, which you posit that then transforms them into mindless robots working for the "rich" (in the old days we called him "the man"). What a disservice to every officer who works at low pay in a thankless job protecting ALL of us. As I indicated, there are more crimes committed in poor and minority neighborhoods (look up the statistics if you're unwilling to talk to the people that live there), and the police work those neighborhhoods diligently. Gosh, many of those officers are either black or come from poor backgrounds themselves. Are you implying that they're either Uncle Toms, house slaves, or poor white trash?

      But then your other comments indicate the above is racist thinking. This is why Carl wrote an essay on the difficulty of black and white conversations on race. The minute a white person disagrees, he's often labeled a racist. Not someone with an alternate, independent thought, but a racist. And, in these enlightened times, who wants to be called a racist? Especially by those who don't know him/her.

      Thank your for your experience as a mental health orderly who could subdue any patient who was out of control without harm. Evidence exists that many such orderlies did not do so. It's a human reaction. Similarly, some police officers do not do so on every occasion, despite their training. Usually they get punished for their actions (not every time, but usually), whether you agree or not.

      So, Mr. Steven Matherly, I hope this clarifies things, but I doubt it will. Humans think overwhelmingly intuitively rather than rationally. We perceive what is apparent to us and attribute differences in perception to the fault of others. Many cognitive biases are unconscious, and we assume they affect others more than ourselves. That's why it's hard to carry on intelligent discourse on such emotional matters as race.

  3. This cop underwent similar training at the academy. It’s odd that he felt the need to punch her in the face repeatedly in order to subdue her.

    Public Relations