Demonstrators brought down a statue atop a Confederate monument in Durham.
Durham County Sheriff Mike Andrews said this afternoon that he had considered ordering his deputies to "engage the crowd" last night in a rally that saw a Confederate monument toppled
, but he opted instead for "restraint" in order to prevent injuries.
Andrews, along with county manager Wendell Davis, spoke Tuesday afternoon in a brief press conference on the demonstration and the removal of the monument. Andrews said his agency had identified some demonstrators and would be pursuing felony charges.
"We can all agree yesterday went too far. Yesterday was not the Durham that I know," he said.
Monday's rally was held in front of a Durham County government building in response to the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville this weekend. The event began with speeches, including some from people who had protested at Unite the Right. Demonstrators then surrounded a statue of a Confederate solider, erected in 1924, and pulled it to the ground with rope. The figure was damaged and later hauled away by county staff.
During Monday's rally, deputies controlled traffic and stood by (at least one filed the demonstration) as protesters marched on Main Street.
"Last night we witnessed a blatant violation of the law. Some might say my deputies stood by and did nothing. Let me be very clear: don’t mistake restraint for inaction," Andrews said. Andrews said the Sheriff’s Office had "considered using pepper spray to disperse the crowd but decided that would lead to injuries and ... chaos."
Andrews also called on city and county leaders to develop "some ground rules" or "what is acceptable and what is unacceptable behavior" during protests in a city where demonstrations are regularly held, often in response to the Sheriff's Office.
"My agency is tasked with a difficult job in a community that supports peaceful protests at times, and my office has been a focus of those protests."
In anticipation of the rally, the Sheriff's Office closed off Main Street, staffed uniformed and nonuniformed officers near the rally, and sprayed the monument "with solvent so that if anything was sprayed or written on it it would be easy to clean," Andrews said. "Let me be clear: mo one is getting away with what happened. We will find the people responsible.”
Davis, the county manager, called the removal of the monument—an action prohibited by state law—"unlawful and inappropriate." While demonstrators have a First Amendment right to free speech, he said, "it is important for our community to exercise the utmost civility in this period of discourse."
"What started as a peaceful event turned into an unfortunate outcome as several individuals worked together to bring down a monument in front of this building," he said. "Regardless of what this monument memorializes in our history, the destruction of this figure was unlawful, and it represented an inappropriate action. Under no circumstances do we condone the destruction of public property. There is a lawful way to gain the attention of our state to address the desire to move, remove, or address substantive changes to a public monument."
In an email to a Durham resident on Tuesday afternoon, Wendy Jacobs, chairwoman of the county Board of Commissioners, said she supported the law enforcement response.
"We do not condone the destruction of public property," she wrote. "I hope you will understand that last night we were also conducting a public meeting. Law enforcement was also responsible for protecting the public inside the county building as well as the county building itself. I fully support the restraint shown by our law enforcement and the priority they gave for the protection of human life. To my knowledge no one was injured and all were able to return home safely."
Dawn Dudley, a county spokeswoman, said the county had been receiving inquires from media and residents across the world about the response of local law enforcement and what would happen to the damaged statue. Davis said plans for the statue will be discussed with the state, citing a 2015 law
that requires approval of the N.C. Historical Commission to remove, relocate, or alter an such monument.
Check out the press conference here:
Organizers of Monday's rally plan to hold a press conference at four p.m. today at N.C. Central.