‘War Toy’ Swap Yields Lessons for Kids and Parents

Justice Drayton Collins,11, hands his toy gun to Tatiana DeBerry, Jordan High School student, during the “Peace Toys for War Toys” swap Dec. 1 in Durham. Photo by Leanora Minai.Justice Drayton Collins stood before a long table stacked with stuffed animals, puzzles, and board games. He picked up a new game in one hand, and in the other hand held tight to his tattered toy western gun with a silver muzzle and white plastic handle.

“Should I get the checkers, chess and tic-tac-toe all in one, or the amplifier and microphone,” he asked a friend standing nearby.

Justice, 11, then handed over the old toy gun, swapping it for the new amplifier and microphone. 

That exchange was just what organizers of “Peace Toys for War Toys” hoped would happen Thursday night in the Community Family Life and Recreation Center at Lyon Park in Durham.

“Many kids are very willing to get rid of their toy guns and knives and come in and get a brand new toy,” said Gail Neely, assistant director of North Carolinians Against Gun Violence, which hosted the Dec. 1 event. “Hopefully, they’ll start playing, and in turn, learn to be more cooperative in the world and have a more peaceful existence than bang, bang shoot ‘em up, which is what a lot of kids are living with in reality.” 

North Carolinians Against Gun Violence hosted the toy exchange, which drew 150 parents and children. Photo by Leanora Minai.In its eighth year in Durham, the event invites children to exchange their “war toys” for free “peace toys” that encourage creative, nonviolent behavior and activities, Neely said. About 150 parents and children gathered for the exchange, which included donated pizza and performances by Unleashed Dance Organization from Durham Technical Community College. Some families brought cans of food for the exchange that also drew volunteers from the city and county.

“Hi, everybody!” Tatiana DeBerry, Jordan High School student and member of the Durham Youth Commission, exclaimed as the first throng of children approached the tables to pick a toy.Tatiana DeBerry hands Gap Barbie to Elise Lawrence, 3. Photo by Leanora Minai.

Jenny Uba, 10, found herself torn over the offerings. She couldn’t decide between a diary with a heart-shaped lock and a star-shaped wristwatch.

“You can write in it, all the thoughts that you feel,” said DeBerry, who wore a Santa hat.

Jenny, whose mother brought canned food to donate, picked the watch.

“I think it will help me know what time it is,” Jenny said.

Neely said the exchange educates parents on the impact toys have on teaching children about violence and ways to resolve conflict.

“It’s more for the parents to get them thinking about what they want the child to learn when they’re giving that gift or buying a toy for their own child,” she said.  “The toy is a learning tool.”

Nearly 3,800 Cases Resolved with Durham CrimeStoppers

Durham Police Corporal Martin Walkowe is coordinator of Durham CrimeStoppers. Photo by Leanora Minai.

Martin Walkowe fields an average of 142 calls a month made to the Durham CrimeStoppers anonymous tip line.

Many callers provide information about people with active arrest warrants for felony charges, like possession with intent to sell cocaine and possession of a firearm by a felon. But Walkowe is also on the other end of the phone line at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. when someone calls wanting to talk about a homicide or other violent crime in the city or county of Durham.

"It’s almost like Christmas sometimes when you get that phone call, and they give you the information that’s just the key the investigator needed to solve that crime,” said Walkowe, corporal with the Durham Police Department and coordinator of Durham County’s CrimeStoppers program.

Since Durham CrimeStoppers' inception in 1983, information provided to the program has led to the resolution of nearly 3,800 cases, including 172 homicides, 344 armed robberies and 487 burglaries, according to an October activity report. Also through the program, 1,119 fugitives have been arrested.

A non-profit program partnering with law enforcement agencies in Durham County, CrimeStoppers is rooted in anonymity. People who call do not identify themselves or provide a name, and Walkowe doesn’t ask. Instead, callers are given a code number. If information leads to an arrest in a felony crime, the caller again contacts CrimeStoppers to arrange payment of the cash reward.

Walkowe, who joined the Durham Police Department as a patrol officer in 1994, recently talked with me about CrimeStoppers and its impact.

How did CrimeStoppers get started?

CrimeStoppers started in the mid-70s in Albuquerque, New Mexico. There was a homicide at a convenience store with very few leads. The police turned to media for assistance, which led to a caller with a tip, which led to an arrest. It was one of the first documented times where the media was used along with law enforcement requesting the public’s help with a crime.

What benefit does CrimeStoppers offer the community?

The benefit of CrimeStoppers is it does provide an anonymous line for people to report any information they have about crimes. The important thing is, being anonymous they know they won’t be revealed. Having an anonymous tip line instead of a confidential tip line is a huge asset to any community.

How does your experience as an investigator help in your role?

I’m the only one who answers the tip line. If a caller calls, I can use my ability as an investigator to get more out of the call than basically ‘John Doe did it.’ I can say, ‘can you give me John Doe’s approximate age, height, weight, how do you know it’s true?’ Things that a tip line normally wouldn’t receive or ask about.

How do you get funding for the cash rewards?

The biggest misconception the public has is that it is funded through the government, and that’s not true. Rewards come from donations … in the past, fundraisers. The strength of the program depends on cash rewards. Not everybody requests a cash reward when they call the tip line, but that’s the motivation for people to call. If we don’t have the funding, it jeopardizes our program.

How much are the rewards?

They range from $100 to $1,500 for a homicide. It can exceed that range if there is money earmarked specifically for that case where donors have given $5,000 or $10,000.

What drives CrimeStoppers’ success?

Everybody deserves credit. Without the police, the media and the public, our program would fall flat. There’s no way to sustain it without all three involved.

Durham CrimeStoppers is a member of the Southeastern Crime Stoppers Association. For more information about the program or to donate to Durham CrimeStoppers, visit the Durham CrimeStoppers website. Anyone with information about a crime in Durham or Durham County may call (919) 683-1200. Other CrimeStoppers programs in the area: Raleigh, Cary and Chapel Hill.

Walking to Prevent Suicide, the 10th Leading Cause of Death

Oriana Clayton, holding a memorial sign in front, walks Saturday in Wake Forest. Photo by Leanora Minai.They wore beads. Gold, for loss of a parent. Silver, a child. Red, for a spouse or partner.

They wore Burger King crowns for a would-be 22nd birthday.

They wrote notes like "the world just isn't the same" on paper butterflies, balloons and hearts, then tied them to tree branches.

“This is my son. He’s the impetus for everything,” said Carolyn Zahnow, touching a ‘Remembering Cameron 1987-2005’ button pinned to her T-shirt. 

Zahnow organized the Out of the Darkness Community Walk on Saturday in Wake Forest to benefit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. About 250 people walked 3-miles through Historic Downtown Wake Forest, raising $7,389 to help prevent suicide, the 4th leading cause of death for adults between the ages of 18 and 65, and the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S.

“Survivors get a sense of comfort because we all come together,” Zahnow said. “We’re all here to try and prevent additional suicide. If you don’t try, you’ll never prevent any.”

Colton’s Crew

Colton Ayscue would have turned 22 on Nov. 12, 2011, the day of the Out of the Darkness Community Walk. Photo by Leanora Minai. Dozens walked in memory of Colton Ayscue, who died May 5, 2011. Friends and family wore gold Burger King crowns and T-shirts that read “Colton’s Crew” on the back, “Forever In Our Hearts” on the front. Even his dog, Basil, joined the walk. Colton played baseball at Southeast Raleigh Magnet High School. During the last game of his high school career, he covered third base, pitched and played catcher all in a single inning. He also hit a home run that day. A graduate of North Carolina State University Agricultural Institute, he worked as a golf course maintenance assistant with the Methodist University Professional Golf Management program in Fayetteville. He was taking classes toward a business degree. “Every time you saw him, he had a smile on his face,” said his father, Steve Ayscue. “That’s what everybody keeps putting on Facebook. They want to see it one more time.” But Colton missed his brother, who was in the military, and was having a tough time with the end of a relationship, family said. Last year, Colton was diagnosed with depression. He would have turned 22 on Saturday, the day of the walk. 

Remembering Cameron

Carolyn Zahnow positions a note for her son, Cameron, on a tree. "Miss you more than words," she wrote. Photo by Leanora Minai.Carolyn Zahnow is founder and facilitator of Wake Forest Survivors of Suicide, one of four support groups in the Triangle area. In addition to leading the support group, she is the author of “Save The Teens: Preventing Suicide, Depression and Addiction.” When she's not working as a communications manager for a non-profit in Raleigh, she works to prevent suicide and break down the stigma. “When survivors lose someone to suicide, we’re sometimes afraid to tell people,” she said. Her son, Cameron, was a graphic artist who wrote and took photos. Cameron's father died when he was 15. “That’s when his depression kicked in,” she said. Cameron eventually became addicted to meth. He took his life on Aug. 11, 2005, at age 18. “They get so deep and depressed like in a really dark hole,” Zahnow said. “You get that deep in it, and you don’t think about asking anybody for help. They have so many days like that.”

For resources, and to get involved, please contact the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. To make a donation to help the Wake Forest walkers reach their $10,000 goal by Dec. 31, visit their Out of the Darkness Community Walk website.

Slideshow: Moments from the Walk

‘My Daughter Died in My Arms’

Demetriss China holds a T-shirt made for her daughter's funeral. Photo by Leanora Minai..
 (If the audio player above does not appear/work on your device, please click here to listen.)

As part of my documentary fieldwork, I’m meeting with mothers whose children have been fatally shot in Durham.

Yesterday, I visited Demetriss China, 28, as she folded laundry at home. Her daughter, Shakanah, was standing outside May 10 when someone opened fire from a passing green van. Shakanah, 13, was not the intended target but was killed. No arrests have been made in the shooting.

The day she died, Shakanah stood outside with her mother and siblings, ages 6 and 14 months. Others from the neighborhood joined them.

They played basketball. They talked, laughed.

And then, the green van rolled by a second time.

Listen to the accompanying audio excerpt (above) of my interview with Demetriss as she recounts the moments that forever changed her life, and took her daughter’s away.

No Arrest Yet for Girl Killed in Durham Drive-By, Memory Lives on Facebook

When I met with Shakanah China’s step-grandmother at her office in Durham, she said people are feeling a range of emotions.

Shakanah China was fatally shot May 10 in a drive-by in Durham.Angry because Shakanah, 13, was shot to death in a drive-by, and no one has been arrested and charged with the crime; grateful because bullets missed others standing outside 7 Atka Court in Durham on May 10.

“Everyone was outside,” said Annette Carrington, the step-grandmother. “It was a warm day."

Around 7:30 p.m., a green van rolled down Rochelle Street. As the vehicle approached Atka Court, someone inside the van fired several shots.

“The first or second one nipped her thumb and the third one shot her in the chest,” said Carrington, a program manager and health educator for Durham County. 

Shakanah was taken to Duke University Hospital, where she was pronounced dead a short time later. Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez has said she was not the intended target, and investigators have asked the public for information about a fight that reportedly occured on Atka Court earlier in the week of the homicide. 

Police announced a Durham CrimeStoppers reward in July for information leading to an arrest, but four months after the shooting, the murder remains unsolved. 

“Shakanah’s death made national headlines and after that death, there’s nothing,” Carrington said. “You don’t have follow-up reports or anything.”

Shakanah was a special girl, she said.This is an excerpt from the profile for Shakanah China on Facebook, created after her death. The latest post, as of this writing, is from September 15: "see youu real soon KANAH :) -- gone but never forgotten."

She loved the cell phone she got for Christmas, enjoyed getting her hair braided and played with stuffed animals. Shakanah was also serious about her future. She enrolled in “Together Everyone Accomplishes Something,” a teen pregnancy prevention program that Carrington helps manage for the county. For nine months, teens are taught life skills and perform community service. Shakanah had one month left.

“That’s an indication she wanted to stay on track,” Carrington said.

On Facebook, a public profile has been created in Shakanah’s name with 1,325 people following it as of this writing. The first post on the Facebook wall came three days after her death, and it reads, “senseless acts takes [sic] away lives.” Someone replied, “Especially the innocent ones who havnt [sic] even begun to live their life.”

Anyone with information about the case is asked to call Durham Police Investigator Pate at (919) 560-4440 ext. 29332 or CrimeStoppers at (919) 683-1200. CrimeStoppers pays cash rewards for information leading to arrests in felony cases. Callers do not have to identify themselves.

Ride-Along With the Durham Police HEAT Team

A man is treated on Holloway Street in Durham for wounds after he was struck in the head with a gun on July 8. Photo by Leanora Minai.

In July, I rode with Robert Gaddy, sergeant of the Durham Police Department's High Enforcement Abatement Team (HEAT) for District 1.

He and other officers on the team enforce "matters of drugs, narcotics, vice-related issues," Gaddy said. "We also do gang enforcement, as well as prevention and education." 

After a traffic stop, an officer tests bills for the presence of heroin. Photo by Leanora Minai.

Within moments of my ride, Gaddy pulled behind a fellow Durham police officer's cruiser to assist with a traffic stop. Before I could adjust the settings on my video camera, Gaddy had hopped from our car. He ran to help a fellow officer prevent the motorist from swallowing drugs. Police recovered "nickel bags" of marijuana from the car. Officers tested cash, and it came back positive for the presence of heroin. The motorist went to jail, and a tow truck pulled his car from the scene.

Soon after that stop, we drove toward Edgemont Park, where people were loitering and drinking in the pavilion. I got an education in gang graffiti. "Rollin 60," reportedly representing the Crips, marked a picnic table, pavilion post and ceiling. 

A Durham police officer points to "RSC," which stands for Rollin' Sixty Crip. Photo by Leanora Minai.

Gang culture won't play prominently in my short film, but I found the sights relevant and important to observe.  

Lights and sirens ended my ride with Gaddy. The police radio in the car crackled with a call of a shooting on Holloway Street near Chester Street.

Turned out, the man wasn't shot. Someone hit him in the back of the head with a blunt object, possibly a pistol. It was aggravated assault.

Over a radio.

Police, Residents Go Door-to-Door for Tips in Fatal Shootings

The Durham Police Department and city volunteers canvass June 29 for tips in two fatal shootings. Photo by Leanora Minai.

After two fatal shootings within two weeks of each other in June, officers from the city of Durham Police Department and resident volunteers set out on foot to canvass the two neighborhoods where the homicides occurred. The goal: offer support to the community. The hope: get information, make arrests.

The response was organized by the city's Project Safe Neighborhoods, which combats gun and gang crime through outreach and various programs.

As part of the neighborhood canvasses on June 29, police officers and volunteers visited the 1300 block of Juniper Street, the location of a fatal shooting on June 12. In that case, when officers arrived on scene, they discovered Javier Arreola Rodriguez, 40, shot in the parking lot. He died a short time later at Duke University Hospital.

The second canvass brought police and residents to the area surrouding 1214 Hearthside St, where on June 24, at about 10:30 p.m., three men were shot inside an apartment. "Investigators believe that one or more suspects entered the apartment, shot the victims and fled," according to a flier. Two of the men lived, but Cesar Nava Fuentes, 28, died.

Anyone with information about the incidents is asked to call Durham CrimeStoppers at (919) 683-1200.