What Did Mayor Bell Know, And When Did He Know It?
April 11, 2006
GRACE: OK. I want to go now to our special guest. Mayor William Bell is joining us. He is the mayor of Durham, North Carolina. Sir, thank you for being with us.
MAYOR WILLIAM BELL, DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA: Good to be here, Nancy. Good to see you.
GRACE: Tell me about the forum today. What did it accomplish?
BELL: Well, I think it gave the public an opportunity to express their concerns, ask questions. What we've said all along, we want to make sure the legal process is thorough, that an investigation is thorough, and no hidden agendas. It gave the public an opportunity to hear from the chancellor of NCCU, myself as mayor, one of our other colleagues on the city council, two of the students from NCCU and Duke University, and of course, the DA, Mike Nifong.
GRACE: Mayor, NCCU -- is that where the forum was held?
BELL: That's right. Chancellor Ammons had called me the day before yesterday and asked if I might be able to come to a public meeting that he was having and to be in Duke Auditorium, and indicated later that I would be one of the panelists. He had also raised some questions with me, and I suggested that he might speak to the district attorney. I called Mike Nifong and suggested that he call the chancellor directly. He did, and as part of that, the chancellor invited him to be part of the panel, and he accepted and he was there today.
GRACE: Now, NCCU -- is that where the young lady, the alleged victim, goes to school?
BELL: I`m sorry. I`m taking too much advantage -- North Carolina Central University, NCCU, is a predominantly black school in Durham, North Carolina, a state-supported school, and that is the school where the young lady who was the alleged victim attends.
GRACE: Mayor, maybe I`m out of style, but as I recall prosecuting rape cases, a lady comes in, she has the rape kit done. There`s sign of vaginal trauma. She's disheveled. She makes an outcry. The facts here are allegedly that she has bruises about the face and the throat, that her fingernails had been torn off, that she leaves behind her pocketbook, her cell phone and her money, including one shoe.
Well, typically, you go make an arrest, especially when you have an eyewitness identification. Then, before trial, you get your DNA results. What's the hold -- up, Mayor? Does that concern you, that an arrest has not been made?
BELL: That does not concern me. And let me say again, I have confidence in our police force in doing their investigation. And I have confidence in the DA. Mike is not someone that just came to this office. He`s been in this office almost 30 years as an assistant DA, so he knows what has to be done, and I'm sure he`s taking appropriate steps to make sure that, one, we don't want to jeopardize any individual's rights in this case, be the ones that are alleged to be suspects or the victim herself. So I think he's taking the appropriate steps...
GRACE: Well, Mayor...
BELL: ... we'll get through the legal process.
GRACE: Mayor, today...
BELL: I'm listening.
GRACE: And I'm all on -- I'm all on the district attorney`s side here. I'm listening to what he has to say. I'm open. I'm anxious. I'm willing to learn more. But he also pointed out that, walking around are these young men, who are actually innocent, that have this cloud hanging over them. Well, what about the young lady?
GRACE: Why are we so concerned about everybody but her?
BELL: No, that's -- quite the contrary. In fact, if you had been at the forum, you would have seen that that was one of the things that the students spoke very much about. And I can tell you that the chancellor of NCCU, in a meeting that I attended with he, President Brodhead and some other African-American members of this community, spoke very, very emphatic about that, that there's a victim, we shouldn't forget that there's a victim, who's a young lady. And more important, she's a mother and she's a student. So she has not been forgotten in this whole process.
GRACE: Mayor Bell, what has been the most difficult thing for you to wrangle with during all of this?
BELL: Quite frankly, probably the more difficult thing is the fact that we've got so much of the national media coming in here not giving a clear -- a true picture about what the city of Durham is all about. Durham is a city of about 210,000 persons. It's the fourth largest city in the state of North Carolina. It's a city where the Research Triangle Park is home to Fortune 500 companies like GE, IBM, GlaxoSmithKline, and et cetera. We're a city that transformed ourselves from tobacco, textiles into a city of medicine. And we have an economy that's doing well. We have a very rich African-American heritage in this community...
GRACE: Well, Mayor -- Mayor, no one is...
BELL: Don't stop me, Nancy...
GRACE: ... what a great city it is. It's a fine city.
BELL: It sure is.
GRACE: But I'm concerned, sir, about this particular case.
BELL: And let me tell you, we're concerned about it, also. And if we focus on that -- that's what we want to do, not focus on other negativities that the national media has portrayed about the city of Durham, North Carolina.