The death of George Floyd after a former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck has revived painful memories for Durham County Commissioner Brenda Howerton.
“My heart is heavy,” Howerton said Monday. “I am one of those mothers whose sons have been murdered, so today is not an easy day for me.”
Howerton was one of several elected officials who joined leaders of the Durham Branch of the NAACP, Organizing Against Racism (OAR) Durham, Durham Clergy United and the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People at a press conference to talk about the judicial systems, racism and protests over George’s death.
“When racism and bias cause our children to be murdered, this is not an easy conversation,” Howerton said. “I’m here to stand for our Black boys and our Black men that are being murdered. They don’t have a right to breathe.”
Howerton’s oldest son, Charles Lamont Howerton, a promising engineering student at Hampton University, was shot and killed in 1993 by a Navy airman he forced to leave a party.
A year later, Howerton’s 19-year-old son, Daryl Eugene Howerton, was shot and killed by two Greensboro police officers.
Daryl was believed to be distraught over his brother’s death. He was shot as he walked into the street nude while brandishing a knife. The officers said he threatened a bystander.
Howerton filed a lawsuit against the officers, accusing them of using excessive force and violating her son’s civil rights. but did not prevail. Daryl Howerton was Black and the officers who shot him are Latinx.
Cathy Rimer-Surles, an OAR Durham leader, trauma experienced over the past few days represent a “normal week in America” for Black and brown citizens.
She noted the national outrage over the high-profile deaths of George, Ahmaud Arbery and and Breonna Taylor.
Arbery was shot to death while jogging in Glynn County, Ga. Police arrested Gregory McMichael and his son Travis McMichael in the death and charged them with murder and aggravated assault.
Meanwhile, Taylor was killed by Louisville police officers during an errant “no-knock” drug search warrant. Her family has sued the officers accusing them of “wrongful death, excessive force, and gross negligence.”
“We know that their deaths are just the tip of the iceberg and that there are so many more who have died unseen, un-mourned and unheard,” Rimer-Surles said.
Durham City Council member Mark-Anthony Middleton said the nation must strive to live up to the founding principle that all men are created equal,
“We’re the only country in history that actually wrote that down and said that we’re going to found our country on it,” Middleton said. “Since, that time we have been at war with ourselves. When they took brother [George] Floyd’s life, a lynching in slow motion on camera, it started this next great battle of the American Revolution.”
Middleton contends the nation is still fighting the American Revolution, and that the Civil War, World War II and all others were only battles.
“What you’re seeing in American cities around the country, you’re missing the point if you’re just see looting,” Middleton said. “Another great battle in the American Revolution has started to determine will this country truly be who we say we are.”
NAACP President Rachel Green asked a question on the minds of millions of African Americans since the chilling video surfaced a week ago of Chauvin using a knee to strangle the life from George Floyd.
“How long do we have to deal with these atrocities?” Green asked.
Racial strife at home
In addition, addressing the civil unrest brought on by Floyd’s death, leaders discussed the ongoing racial strife between Durham County Manager Wendell Davis, who is Black and County Commissioner Heidi Carter, who is white.
Davis has accused Carter of racism in her dealing with him and other county workers of color.
“For some, but not so obvious reasons, you have taken several opportunities to make disparaging remarks about me,” Davis wrote in a Feb. 11 letter addressed to Carter. “I am now concerned that it is due to an inherent bias that you harbor not merely towards me but people of color in general.”
Carter is a former school board member who clashed with Davis over school funding. She denied comments about Davis are racially motivated.
Last month, the Durham County Board of Commissioners launched an investigation to determine whether Davis attempted to interfere in the March 3 primary election by accusing Carter of “inherent bias” in the Feb. 11 letter.
Middleton has asked commissioners to halt the investigation during the pandemic. He said Davis and commissioners should focus on keeping county workers and Durham residents safe.
“The proposition that our commanding general, who is the county manager, would be engaged in anything else other than our protection is unconscionable,” Middleton said.