Two years ago today, Durham lost Jesus “Chuy” Huerta, who died in the back of a police cruiser in the parking lot of the Durham Police Department Headquarters, after being detained by patrolman Samuel Duncan for an old trespassing warrant. To this day, DPD chief Jose Lopez has not publicly acknowledged that his department is responsible for Chuy’s death. One of Lopez’s last acts, before his ‘retirement’ Dec. 31, should be to be accountable to Chuy’s family, his friends, classmates, and the entire Durham community, and admit his own fault, as well as Duncan’s and the entire department’s. And perhaps our charge as residents should be to make the swath of grass and gardens at Trinity and Washington streets a memorial to Chuy, to a life cut short by police, and as a reminder to never forget.
Reaching a little farther back in history, we also take a moment today to pay tribute to the legacy of Joe Hill, as it marks 100 years since the state of Utah killed him by firing squad. The great bard and songwriter of the Industrial Workers of the World was in that state organizing miners when the authorities framed him on a murder charge. While these two deaths may seem to have little in common but a date, they both produced collective outpourings of grief and rage. Whereas a century ago, the state was in the business of framing and putting to death radical immigrants who organized to overturn the status quo, these days, although repression of radical activists is alive and well, the state–in the form of the police–more often sows fear by cutting down young Black and Brown people before they can even grow to full bloom. When Joe Hill told the firing squad “Fire” (his last word), he knew full well he was dying a martyr. Oscar Grant, Jonathan Ferrell, Chuy Huerta, Michael Brown, and so many others had no such knowledge when they inexplicably lost their lives at the hands of police. Thus, we may want to update Joe Hill’s famous directive to Take time to mourn–and ORGANIZE.
And despite Joe saying no one ever reads a pamphlet more than once, we also offer again this pamphlet, written at the time of the protests surrounding Chuy’s death in 2013.