After 11 gun-related deaths in Durham in 2019, how is the city reacting?

NC Rep. Pricey Harrison (center) and others debate competing gun legislation, including House Bill 86 – the Gun Violence Protection Act. (Photo Credit: NC Policy Watch)

Durham rang in the new year with tragedy as three people were murdered in two separate shootings, one at Alden Place Apartments and the second on House Avenue. However, residents and officials grew increasingly concerned as the rash spread of homicides increased to six gun-related deaths in just 11 days.

In a news conference organized for Durham officials to comment on the recent outbreak of fatal shootings, Wendy Jacobs, head of the Durham Board of County Commissioners, discussed the resources the city provides to address what she called the “root causes” of such violence.

“Many people have expressed their horror and concern about what has happened in the past few weeks and want to know what they can do to help,” Jacobs said. “At the end of the day what it takes to prevent and stop gun violence is a caring and loving community.”

Durham is far from alone in the fight against the unprecedented proliferation and misuse of guns. However, protests across the country are demanding that public officials combat gun violence with more than just love.

Durham Mayor Steve Schewel announced the need for “common-sense gun laws” in North Carolina throughout the press conference, mainly referencing the ease at which young people can access and purchase firearms.

After the anniversary of the Parkland shooting on Feb. 14, 2018, N.C. representatives hoped to address this issue with the introduction of House Bill 86. Coined the “Gun Violence Prevention Act,” the bill would raise the age to purchase assault weapons from 18 to 21, ban bump stocks and require background checks on all gun purchases, among several other provisions.

N.C. Sen. Floyd B. McKissick Jr., a well-known Democratic Durham legislator, told the VOICE that though the bill was “very symbolic in nature and aspirational in tone,” he believes “with the current environment here in North Carolina and in the general assembly with a Republican majority, it will never receive a hearing.”

McKissick was a victim of gun violence 33 years ago, when his arm was nearly amputated as a result of a gunshot wound. He cites the experience as inspiration for his commitment to realistic gun reform.

“We have to think creatively and out of the box,” McKissick said. “So common sense gun laws is a nice catch-all phrase that can make you feel good, but you got to put beef to it.”

NC Sen. Floyd B. McKissick Jr, of Durham, participates in the student-lead March For Our Lives Rally held in Durham last year. (Photo Credit: Senator Floyd B. McKissick Jr.)

Chantel Johnson, whose brother died as a result of gun violence in Chicago, is an entrepreneur of creative solutions to violence. The former Durham resident returned to Bull City on Saturday to speak about her organization, “Off Grid in Color,” which promotes homesteading and self-sufficiency as an alternative to poverty and violence.

To read the VOICE’s coverage on Johnson and her visit to Durham click here. 

As for legislation, McKissick is working on gaining bipartisan support for an “extreme risk protection order” bill, otherwise known as “gun violence restraining orders,” that would ultimately allow judges to remove firearms from people that pose an imminent threat to themselves or others.

“I’m optimistic that we might be able to get it introduced and heard this year and that would be a positive step,” McKissick said. “But you know, you have to take things one step at a time…reform seems to follow atrocities. And I hope that’s not what it takes here in North Carolina.”

The Durham VOICE has chronicled the coverage of Durham’s recent crime in the timeline below with the data collected by Bull City Homicide, an independent organization tracking violent deaths in Durham.

Timeline: 11 gun-related homicides of 2019 (Source: Bull City Homicide)

  1. Keith Antonio Watson (29), Jan. 1, 2019: Double shooting at Alden Place Apartments leaves Keith Watson dead and an anonymous woman critically injured.
  2. Murilio Zurito Domingo (24), Jan. 1, 2019: The second deadly double shooting on New Year’s Day in Durham. Jose Manuel Vargas-Regino, 20, of Durham, has been charged with murder and was arrested while attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border. He is currently being held in Texas and is awaiting extradition to Durham.
  3. Bertin Vasquez Mendoza (26), Jan. 1, 2019: The second victim of Jose Manuel Vargas-Regino’s alleged double shooting. Murilio Domingo and Bertin Mendoza were found dead from gunshot wounds at the 2000 block of House Ave., Durham.
  4. Willie Moore (60), Jan. 8, 2019: Chivalry Moore of Kinston allegedly shot and killed his 60-year-old father at 5706 Tomahawk Trail. Moore’s supervisor at UPS called 911 after an employee showed them a picture taken by Moore of his father’s body lying face down in blood. After a five-hour standoff, Chivalry Moore was shot by Deputy David Bermel and suffered non-fatal injuries. Moore is now being held at Durham County Jail without bond.
  5. Zhytila Wilkins (20), Jan. 11, 2019:Wilkins and her 10-month-old daughter, Ruia Reams, were shot and killed in the 3600 block of Suffolk St. Wilkin’s ex-boyfriend and father of the child, Ramir Reams, has been charged with two counts of murder. Police Chief C.J. Davis described the incident as a “a disturbing domestic murder/attempted suicide” in a statement released on Jan. 11.
  6. Ruia Reams (10 months), Jan. 11, 2019: Just under a year old, Ruia Reams is the youngest victim of Durham’s surge of gun violence following the new year.
  7. Wallace Barry Hayes (28), Jan. 24, 2019: Frank Bernard Leathers Jr., 25, of Durham, turned himself in for the murder of Hayes in HomeTown studios on N.C. Highway 55. He is currently being held in Durham County Jail.
  8. Kenya Lamont Thompson (46), Feb. 7, 2019: Thompson was shot and killed at 4300 N. Roxboro St., outside a Captain D’s fast food restaurant. Witnesses report that Thompson was sitting in the front seat of his vehicle when a second car drove up next to him and began shooting. Thompson later died in the hospital from gunshot wounds. No suspects are in custody. Please call Investigator J. Mitchell at (919) 560-4440 with any information.
  9. Moncel D’Angelo Garrett-Richardson (21), March 6, 2019: Richardson was shot on the 1700 block of Holloway Street and died of gunshot wounds in the nearby hospital. Nineteen-year-old Jonathan Wade White of Durham was arrested shortly after on a charge of murder. He is currently being held in the Durham County Jail without bond.
  10. Gregory Shaw, Jr. (22), March 7, 2019: Shaw was found dead in the parking lot in the 900 block of Fayetteville Street by officers responding to a shooting call. Roland Richardson, 34, turned himself into Durham Police on March 14. He was charged with murder and is currently being held in the Durham County Jail without bond.
  11. Marcus Jackson (23), March 19, 2019:Jackson, of Durham, was shot and killed during a shooting at Lenox West Apartments in the 200 block of Remington Circle. Shajuan Dwatray Ervin, 25, of Durham, was soon arrested and charged with murder. He is now being held at the Durham County Jail.

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