Law enforcement looks on after demonstrators toppled a Confederate monument in front of a Durham County building Monday night, before marching down Main Street.
Chanting "make racists afraid again" and "no cops, no KKK, no fascist USA," demonstrators toppled a ninety-three-year-old Confederate monument in downtown Durham Monday night.
After a demonstrator climbed to the top of a ladder and looped a yellow rope around the hollow figure, a crowd gathered outside of the Durham County government building cheered, with a few kicking the statue, which was erected in 1924
"in memory of the boys who wore the gray."
The rally was organized by several groups, including the Workers World Party Durham Branch, in response to the white supremacist Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville on Saturday
. Neo-Nazis, KKK members and other white supremacists, some carrying weapons, Nazi flags, and Confederate flags, converged on the city after Charlottesville officials made plans to remove a monument to Confederate general Robert E. Lee.
One person, Heather Heyer, was killed after a man with ties to a white supremacist group allegedly slammed a vehicle into a crowd of anti-fascist protesters. Dozens were injured.
"Have you ever felt love?" asked organizer Eva Panjwani before the monument came down. "Then let's not give love a bad name. Love does not look like silence, like passivity, like inaction."
After the statue in Durham was brought down, a crowd of protesters marched down Main Street to the site of a new $70 million police headquarters being built. During the rally, there was little law enforcement presence in front of the Durham County building, although Sheriff's Office deputies came outside as demonstrators surrounded the Confederate monument. Following the march, people returned to the county building to take pictures with the fallen monument.
Durham County officials released a statement after midnight:
Our elected officials and senior staff understand the unrest in our nation and community, particularly following the senseless acts that took place in Charlottesville, VA. We share the sentiments of many communities around the nation that admonish hate and acts of violence as we believe civility is necessary in our every action and response. Governmental agencies dedicated to public safety will continue to work collectively to ensure Durham remains a community of excellence where all of our residents can live peacefully, grow and thrive.
Governor Roy Cooper quickly weighed in on the demonstration.
According to a 2016 report
, Virginia has the most confederate monuments, ninety-six. North Carolina and Georgia tied for second with ninety each. A 2015 law makes it illegal to remove such monuments in North Carolina.
Speakers called out the police response to the rally in Charlottesville, media "profiting" off of scenes of violence, and "passive white liberalism," at times specifically referring to a vigil held in Durham Sunday
evening. Some of the same people involved with Monday's rally were not included in Sunday's speakers list, as they requested, and interrupted the event. Their arrival prompted attendees to sing, "This Land is Your Land" over them.
"This land has never been ours for my people," Takiyah Thompson said at Monday's rally. "This land has never been ours for Native Americans. This land has never been ours for queer people. This land has only been ours for rich ruling white elites, period."
Organizers of Sunday's event, who handed over the mic to Qasima Wideman, with Workers World Party, said the group could not be included in the vigil because their request came too late and because they could not "endorse any acts of violence."
Before the statue came down, Durham residents who were at the rally in Charlottesville—including two people who worked as street medics—shared what they saw.
"I witnessed street medics and laypeople act first, running towards the destruction and never away," said one, who only gave the name Pages. "I watched state police pull up with a heavily armored vehicle, an officer in the turret with a tear gas launcher pointed at those providing medical care. I watched as the state pulled my loves ones, my medic family, from doing chest compressions on those in most critical care."
Alissa Ellis, her voice hoarse from chanting, called on the crowd to "fight white supremacy in all of its forms," "embrace a diversity of tactics," and "shun passive white liberalism that admonishes the anti-fascists."
"I witnessed unity and a beautiful diversity of tactics as all antifa took to the streets to defend Charlottesville. When the clergy was running and said there is violence, the antifa was there," she said. "The tactics that were used by the right were military in nature, and their acts were protected by the cops as they allowed the Nazis and the Klan to do their work."
Later in the evening, as the crowd dispersed, a few demonstrators confronted officers blocking off Main Street. Officers in riot gear entered the lobby of the government building, where county commissioners were holding a regular meeting. During the protest, the board read a resolution "supporting the people of Charlottesville and condemning violent acts that occurred," according to the county's Twitter account.
"It's about time that statue came down. It represents a lot. North Carolina is not united for nothing; we are divided, but now we're fighting back. If the police won't help us, we're going to help each other. Skin color doesn't matter," said Pierre Faulkner, who confronted deputies during a tense moment following the march, saying, "Cops and Klan go hand in hand."
As the crowd began to dissipate, law enforcement stood in front of the county building, with a few making quiet remarks about "erasing history," a pay raise, and "the circus" leaving town. At about nine p.m., the officers wearing riot gear left the government building and boarded Sheriff's Office vans. (A Sheriff's Office spokesperson has not replied to the INDY
's request for comment on the demonstrations.)
In a statement
, the Durham Police Department essentially washed its hands of the matter, saying it had made no arrests and that "no infractions occurred within city jurisdiction." (The statue was on county property, where the Sheriff's Office has jurisdiction). "When monitoring such incidents the Sheriff’s Office is the decision-making agency regarding law enforcement response on matters concerning county property," the statement reads.
Amid cheers, the mangled statue was hauled away Monday night by county workers after most protesters had dispersed. A county employee said it would likely be held in a warehouse for now.
"It doesn't matter if it's down. What are we doing in east Durham?" said one onlooker, who asked to be identified only as Tia, referring to practices of redlining (in which banks denied loans to largely black neighborhoods) and overpolicing.
The attack in Charlottesville has renewed conversation about the South's Confederate monuments and iconography. In addition the one toppled Monday, inscribed with the words "erected by the people of Durham County," there is also a monument on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill, referred to as Silent Sam. Protesters draped a black cloth over it Sunday during a rally.
Not coincidentally, last night Orange County schools prohibited "the Confederate Flag, swastika, and any KKK related symbols or language in our Student Dress Code Policy," following a months-long debate