Several hundred people were ready and willing to stand up to white supremacy in Durham today.
Amid reports of an expected KKK rally downtown, a thousand or so people quickly packed Main Street, marching to the county government building where a Confederate monument was torn down on Monday. County offices and some downtown businesses closed in anticipation of the protest. By five p.m. (after the Sheriff's Office announced it was reopened a stretch of Main Street in front of the government building), crowds were dispersing and calling the day a victory.
"Let no one be misinformed that we are with each other. Let no one be misinformed that this is a people's victory. We have people of all faiths, all backgrounds, all nationalities, all political strategies, believers of different tactics, people with different levels of experience and age out here today. So the one thing that's very clear about people who have been out in the heat like this since maybe noon today is that we are together. The people of Durham are together," said organizer Eva Panjwani.
Monday's demonstration was held in response to the deadly violence that broke out at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville over the weekend. Since Monday, eight demonstrators have been arrested and dozens attempted to voluntarily turn themselves in as a show of support for the action. Amid all the action, Durham County district attorney Roger Echols announced he would only prosecute people directly involved in dismantling the monument, not just participating in the nonviolent.
The eight demonstrators have been charged with damaging public property as well as inciting a riot, which is a felony that requires disorderly and violent conduct.
"Justice requires I must take into account the pain of recent events in Charlottesville and the pain in Durham and the nation," Echols said, per a WRAL livestream. "Justice requires I consider that Durham citizens have no proper recourse for asking our local government to relocate or remove this monument. Justice also requires that I be aware that asking people be patient and let government institutions address injustice is sometimes asking more than those who have been historically ignored, marginalized, or harmed by a system can bear."
Throughout the day, demonstrators danced, played drums and distributed water and supplies in the heat. There have been reports of KKK members being spotted downtown or planning to come downtown, but the INDY has been unable to confirm that information first-hand. According to the city (via social media and a spokesperson), no permits have been issued for a demonstration in Durham today.
At two p.m., the Durham County Sheriff's Office issued asking people to "avoid joining the crowd."
"We want to thank the Durham community for a peaceful demonstration. Throughout the day, we have received numerous reports of potential counter protests in the Durham community. The Sheriff's Office has been gathering and reviewing information related to potential counter protests throughout the week. We have taken steps to ensure public safety. At this time, law enforcement continues to monitor the area and has not confirmed reports of activity. We are urging residents to avoid joining the crowd in the downtown area as law enforcement continues to monitor the situation. Residents are encouraged to rely on verified information."
Meanwhile, the city and county have started a social media campaign to try to dispel rumors of hate groups coming to town.
Wendy Jacobs, chairwoman of the Durham County Board of Commissioners, said she had also heard unconfirmed reports of as many as three groups planning to come to Durham today. She said she had confirmed with the Durham police chief, sheriff, and city manager that no permits had been issued.
"I'm very proud of our community," Jacobs said. "I hope it will continue being a peaceful demonstration, and I'm proud of our community coming out to stand up against the KKK and white supremacy. These groups could possibly come here to bring their hate with them to our community, and people are coming out and saying no."
People cordoned off a block of Main Street in anticipation of a hate groups members' arrival. The crowd then marched down Pettigrew Street en masse and to the site of the toppled Confederate monument, stopping traffic along the way.
In a statement, U.S. Representative G.K. Butterfield said demonstrators in Durham had conveyed their message “loudly and clearly."
There is no place for hate, bigotry, and racism in our society. The demonstrators today are making it known loudly and clearly that the KKK, Neo-Nazis, and other extremist groups are not welcome in our communities.
The actions in Durham do not take place in a vacuum. People of good will no longer tolerate anyone who desires to honor and celebrate a dark period of American history. 240 years of slavery in America is considered an original sin and we have long been moving toward a color blind and inclusive society.
“Through his words and actions, it is clear that President Trump either condones or is indifferent to racist behavior and policies that will turn back the clock on the progress we have made toward equality. President Trump must forcefully and unequivocally condemn the actions of the KKK, Neo-Nazis, and other extremist groups and reject their political support.
Like Governor Cooper, I call for the immediate removal of all confederate statues and monuments that are displayed on government property, including the US Capitol. These monuments depict a period of history that must be taught to future generations but not celebrated.”