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.