The shooting deaths of black men by white police officers over the past few years has brought about much tension in city neighborhoods across the country.
They're raising questions like, “What happened to community policing?”
Here is a story about a former Raleigh police officer who was well-known and respected in the neighborhood where he worked and even made a movie about it.
It’s the same southeast Raleigh neighborhood where a young black man was shot and killed by a white police officer last week.
That's where Ashante Watson stood in front of a memorial full of candles and red and black balloons remembering 24-year-old Akiel Denkins. He was the black man who was shot and killed by police officer D.C. Twiddy, who is white.
“He didn’t even do anything. He felt endangered, so he decided to run, so in memory of him we did this," said Watson. "I put, 'Shante will always love you,' with a heart.”
Several investigations are underway, but the latest information from city officials says Denkins and Twiddy struggled before shots were fired. Early reports also say it appears Denkins had a weapon, which was found near his body.
With tensions high, including a lot of police-bashing, I asked Watson if there were better times in her Bragg Street neighborhood and if there were any police officers she liked. She said yes.
"We had one neighborhood police, a while ago, Officer Wagner. He was a very good friend and then he retired," said Watson. "So ever since then, the neighborhood really hasn’t been the same since he left. It was a lot safer when he was here.”
“I miss the relationships I had the opportunity to build while I was there. I miss being a police officer every single day," said Robert Wagner.
It wasn’t hard finding Former Raleigh Police Officer Robert Wagner.
“And when I got removed from the area, I felt, I felt like I wasn’t able to do what I was called to do, and that was to show compassion, show love and try to make a difference," said Wagner.
Wagner, who is White, is 31-years-old and patrolling the Bragg Street neighborhood was his first assignment. He patrolled the area for seven years. And he knew everybody, including Akiel Denkins, who was recently shot and killed.
“Matter of fact, I remember the time when I actually had to arrest him for outstanding warrant," said Wagner. "I believe the warrant was for failure to appear on a misdemeanor possession marijuana charge.”
Wagner says he could tell, Denkins didn’t like the situation he was in.
“I remember telling him, Akiel you’ve got every opportunity in your life right now, you have no felonies. You got this one drug charge that’s an easy thing I can put you through a program and get this thing dismissed, we can work through this," said Wagner.
Fast forward a few years. When Officer Twiddy was trying to arrest Denkins, he was wanted on a felony drug charge.
Wagner says he still doesn’t know the exact reason why he was reassigned from the mostly African American Bragg Street neighborhood. He knows some residents complained, saying he was no “Great White Hope.”
Wagner left the department altogether when his request to take a leave of absence to produce a film, was denied. The name of the short movie is “Bragg N East,” about the Raleigh neighborhood where he worked. It premiered in 2014.
“As a public servant, it’s my responsibility to step up and get involved," Wagner says in the film.
Remember Ashante Watson who first told me about Wagner. Well he definitely remembers her. Several years ago, he was Watson’s escort at a father-daughter dance at Passage Home, an organization that serves struggling families and neighborhoods. The girl would sit in a chair while her escort said positive things about her.
“Everyone crowds around, I had to get up on one knee in front of her and speak some positive words into their life. For a while I would drive down the street and I would say, how is it going daughter, and she would say, hey dad. It was fun," said Wagner.
Wagner says what he wants most of all is a peaceful neighborhood for all the Ashante’s out there. And he also wants a better path for all the Akiel’s.