Durham, N.C. has become the first American city to prohibit its police department from engaging in international police exchanges following a 6-0 vote by the Durham City Council Monday evening. The statement, which states that “such exchanges do not support the kind of policing we want here in the City of Durham,” bars the Durham police department from participating in any exchange where officers receive “military-style training,” specifically denoting previous training sessions with Israel police.
According to WRAL, the issue was brought to local lawmakers through a petition started by Demilitarize! Durham2Palestine that called for them to “immediately halt any partnerships that the Durham Police Department has or might enter into with the Israeli Defense Forces and/or the Israel Police.” The petition gathered 1,300 signatures in support of its claims that Israeli law enforcement tactics promote racial bias and militarization. “We’ve witnessed a lot of police brutality in both locations,” said Duke University senior Jazmynne Williams. “I feel like these exchanges only do so much to trade the worst practices of both the U.S. and Israeli military forces.”
While a large amount of local residents and the Jewish Voice for Peace organization supported the move, multiple organizations, most notably the Anti-Defamation League and Durham County Fraternal Order of Police, and rabbis rose in opposition. Durham Police Department spokesman Wil Glenn stated that the policy was unnecessary, as the DPD hadn’t engaged in any exchanges with Israel since 2016 and Chief C.J. Davis had no intention to do so in the future.
Former Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez, who sees the training exchanges as valuable, spent a week in Israel receiving training and sent two commanders to Washington, D.C. for training with Israeli police during his time in office.
Pro-Israel and Jewish voices within the community viewed the statement as being fueled by anti-semitic sentiments, citing the petition’s explicit targeting of Israel. “It very clearly is anti-Israel … They are using this false flag as a way of getting Durham to pass a petition that defames Israel, so they can show it around the United States and get other cities to do the same,” said co-chair of Voice for Israel Dr. Bob Gutman.
In response, Councilwoman DeDreana Freeman dismissed notions that the statement’s adoption was tied to any opposition to the Jewish faith or population. “This is not, for me, a religious battle. This is a human rights issue,” stated Freeman.
Durham Mayor, Steve Schewel, who is Jewish himself, criticized both sides, saying that the use of “false information” by supporters and attempts to “delegitimize the process” by opposers hurt relations between the police and residents. “It is so damaging to police-community relations and everything we’re trying to accomplish … the truth matters,” said Schewel.
Hillsborough resident Debra Rosenstein supported the adoption of the policy and hopes that the rest of the country will follow suit, viewing Durham as an example of trying to quell the increasing militarization of American law enforcement agencies. “All of us who care about fighting racism, and all of us who care about trying to have democracy maintained or exist in this country—we need to not have militarized police forces,” said Rosenstein.