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Jeri Rowe: Devin Scales' haven is behind the camera

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GREENSBORO — Devin Scales carries a video camera everywhere.

He and his older brother, Rufus, bought it earlier this month from a pawn shop for $120, $60 apiece. See, Devin fancies himself as a filmmaker. He’s 22, a single father looking for a job and living with his paternal grandparents, and he would like to shoot music videos to bring in some income.

Plus, without a car, he walks everywhere. He sees much. So he gets to film much.

But there’s something else about that video camera. When I ask, he gives me one word.

“Validation.’’

Validation?

“So everyone can see what I see and not just take my word for it,’’ he told me this week. “They can see it from my view. Do I feel like it can save my life compared to a weapon? No. But will the video provide evidence? Yes.’’

Devin — and his video camera — is caught in the middle of yet another controversy involving local police and their department’s perceived abuse of power and lack of accountability when they deal with people of color, particularly young black men like Devin.

Local police disagree. City officials, too. Interim Police Chief Anita Holder, a 27-year veteran of the Greensboro Police Department, emphasized Thursday that the entire department is constantly being trained to treat people fairly, with bias taking a back seat.

Checks and balances, Holder says, are in place to make sure that is followed.

But for some, perception is reality when it comes to abuse of power and lack of accountability.

Last week, those perceptions were raised during a news conference at the Beloved Community Center, the city’s longtime center of activism and a place that for years has questioned the actions of local police and police leadership.

With his hands folded in front, Devin sat at a table with a retired civil rights attorney and four ministers. For years, the ministers have heard stories from their parishioners about police harassment. As they have done in the past, the ministers called out the police to be more accountable.

They also want elected leaders to listen, so the city — all parts of the city — can heal. “Heal’’ was the word they used. They also mentioned the police shooting on Aug. 9 of an unarmed black 18-year-old in a suburb of St. Louis and how that one event underscores the need for better accountability among police nationwide. That needs to happen, the ministers say.

Then Devin spoke. He talked about his video camera.

“I wanted to get a video camera because I was tired of getting harassed,’’ he told a room full of journalists, activists, ministers and one local cop — Deputy Chief James Hinson. “If you know me, you know I’m a good guy. We’re human. I wanted to get my message out.’’

He and his brother bought the video camera Aug. 1 Then came Aug. 4, a Monday, and an incident that happened near the intersection of Atlanta and Memphis streets.

Here are the charges: Rufus was charged with being intoxicated and disruptive, impeding traffic and resisting a public officer. Devin was cited for standing “upon a highway or street in such a manner as to impede the regular flow of traffic.”

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The video Devin shot shows only the tail-end of the altercation. The 52 seconds I saw — and everyone else can see — shows Rufus flat on his stomach, with a police officer cuffing his wrists behind his back.

“Make sure you got that on camera, bra,’’ Rufus, 27, told his brother, a conversation you can hear on the video. “I ain’t doing nothing. What did I do wrong?’’

The 52 seconds shows no traffic other than four police cars. Rufus has told everyone that he only had one beer. The two brothers say they were walking to the store just after 6:30 p.m. after putting their grandmother to bed. Their grandmother needs a wheelchair to get around.

The police are investigating the incident. This week, a police officer from the department’s professional standards division talked with Devin, Rufus and their minister, the Rev. Nelson Johnson. Meanwhile, Rufus has declined to talk any further because he worries he could lose his job if he talks publicly.

This is the world that Devin lives in. It’s a world where he believes he needs a video camera to feel safe in his hometown.

Now, he and his brother have had run-ins with the law in the past. But both have tried to straighten out their lives, Johnson says. They’ve joined Faith Community Church, Rufus has a full-time job, and Devin says he is trying to find a job after graduating from Dudley High and coming home two years ago after a 14-month stint in the Navy.

He says he came home to see his underweight son. Rayvon was born eight days after Devin joined the Navy. Devin saw Rayvon in the hospital, attached to an IV machine.

“It messed me up,’’ Devin says. “I didn’t like that. I didn’t want him to be in a hospital, period. I wanted him to know who his father was.’’

Devin doesn’t see his son much anymore. Once a month, maybe. He has seen the police more.

Last spring, his brother dropped him off at a beauty school off East Wendover Avenue where he was studying to be a cosmetologist. The police pulled up behind Rufus’ pickup, which was loaded with scrap metal to recycle.

What followed is up for dispute, but Rufus and Devin were arrested for resisting arrest, a misdemeanor assault on a law enforcement officer and possession of drug paraphernalia — a plastic bag with residue that police claimed was marijuana.

Rufus was hit by a Taser while sitting in his truck. When a police officer opened the door, Rufus fell out of the truck and hit his head on the concrete. He chipped his tooth and suffered a gash under his nose. Devin says his brother needed five stitches to close it.

Devin keeps all this in a file: his recent arrest report and a handful of photos of Rufus’ injuries from last spring.

“This is our stuff, our proof,’’ he says.

The charges eventually were dismissed. But first Devin and Rufus both had to complete 50 hours of community service and spend $150 apiece on two daylong classes on anger management as well as an education on the perils of alcohol and drugs.

After that incident in May of 2013, Devin says he or his brother had been stopped by police at least a half-dozen times.

Then, following the incident Aug. 4, he got five phone calls on his grandparents’ phone from an organization that showed up as the “National Police’’ on caller ID. Devin never answered the phone. The first call came on Aug. 4 — three hours before his arrest and a few months after the case from May 2013 was settled.

Those six phone calls have intimidated him. So Devin keeps his video camera close. He views his world through a lens where paranoia exists. He constantly looks over his shoulder. He would love for that to stop. That’s why he sat at a table last week and told his story.

“It was my destiny to stand up,’’ he said. “Stand up for something or die for nothing.’’

Contact Jeri Rowe at (336) 373-7374 or find him @JeriRoweNR on Twitter or www.facebook.com/jeriroweNR.

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Listen now and subscribe: Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify | Stitcher | RSS Feed | Omny Studio

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