Nine people facing felony charges in an August 14 demonstration that saw a Confederate monument toppled appeared in court this morning. Their cases were continued until November, but that didn’t stop them from taking a victory lap.
The group, united under the banner Defend Durham
, marched from the courthouse to Central Park along with supporters from Greensboro, Raleigh, New York, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. They detoured by the site of the monument (now just a pedestal) to give remarks and honor Heather Heyer, an antiracist protester who was killed one month ago during the Unite the Right white supremacist rally in Charlottesville.
Loan Tran, Takiyah Thompson and Raul Jimenez, charged with toppling Durham's Confederate monument, salute Heather Heyer, an anti-racist protester killed during a white supremacist gathering in Charlottesville.
Standing in front of the pedestal, Takiyah Thompson, who climbed a ladder to the top of the monument during the August 14 action, said white supremacy is “not a ripe apple on a tree.”
“We gotta shake it down,” said Thompson, an N.C. Central student and member of the Workers World Party. “We have to make it fall, and when white supremacy falls and when the system of capitalism that subjugates all of us falls, it’s going to fall as fast and crumple like that piece-of-shit statue.”
Dozens of supporters gathered outside the Durham County courthouse Tuesday morning, handing out free “Do It Like Durham” T-shirts and hats. A total of twelve people have been charged in connection with the August 14 demonstration, and another two are facing charges stemming from August 18, when hundreds of people gathered downtown amid reports of a possible KKK rally.
“People have been asking me how I feel all day,” Thompson said. “I feel powerful, I feel great. I’m not losing a wink of sleep. I slept like a baby. I slept like a free person last night because we are all more free thanks to the action that we took on August 14.”
Many in the crowd wore denim
like members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (particularly the women), who wore the material as a nod to African-American sharecroppers and to signal a change in the tone of their activism. Solidarity events were also planned in other cities and will continue in Durham this week.
“Durham has made headlines across the country not just because we believe that people have the right to take down a monument that glorifies white supremacy, but because of the amazing solidarity that has come up,” said organizer Eva Panjwani. In the week that followed the August 14 rally, supporters showed up at court appearances for those arrested and symbolically turned themselves in at the Durham County jail. Several people with warrants issued for their arrest also turned themselves in as part of the action.
About ten people came from Baltimore, where a "Do It Like Durham" campaign organized by local activists helped motivate city leaders to take down Confederate monuments there in the middle of the night.
"Now that the statue is down," said Trevor Wingfield, a Baltimore WWP member," I want to see people yank down what the statue represents."
Michael Wilson, a WWP member who came to Durham this week from Philadelphia, says he turned on CNN on August 14 to see video
of the statue being toppled and recognized organizer Loan Tran, who was arrested at Thompson’s first appearance along with another demonstrator. Wilson said he had met Tran a few times at WWP events in other cities.
“I knew instantly that I was coming to Durham,” he said. “I think Durham is on the cutting edge of the entire party.”
Richard Kossally, with the People’s Power Assembly in New York City, traveled to Durham for the court date and a block party held Saturday by the Workers World Party Durham Branch, Alerta Migratoria, Youth Organizing Institute, Durham Solidarity Center, and Fight for 15.
Kossally said the actions by Durham demonstrators ignited a conversation about Confederate monuments and institutional racism.
“You sparked it in a way that I think will endure,” he said to the crowd.
The group caught the attention of a Dutch film crew making a series on demonstrations across the world. They've highlighted activists in Berlin, the Netherlands, and Austria, but Durham is the only U.S. location they're featuring, said producer Ilja Willems, with the Dutch public access station NTR.
Willems said Dutch viewers are engrossed in protests happening across the U.S., and the crew chose Defend Durham because "this is one of the most diverse groups fighting for freedom" in a country that isn't as equal as international audiences think.
Musician Toshi Reagon, of the band BIGLovely, also traveled from New York to sing for the crowd and take part in an action she has followed through social media and supported from Brooklyn. Reagon has performed at Carnegie Hall, the Paris Opera House, and Madison Square Garden. In November, she'll be bringing an opera of Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower
that she cowrote with her mother to the Carolina Performing Arts Center in Chapel Hill.
“Everybody is talking about it,” she said. “Communities that are coming together around police brutality, white supremacy are very excited by Durham. When they pulled the statue down it went around in New York like ‘Did you see that? Did you see that?’ It was really inspirational. It fired everybody up. … Durham’s a bright light for our movement.”
Reagon said the young people leading the Defend Durham movement aren’t the next generation, “they’re right now."
“Since we came here against our will, we’ve been fighting,” she said. “Y’all know about the sixties, but I know about the hundreds of years, and every time something has happened, it’s been the young people to focus the attention of the nation.”
Thompson, for one, is continuing that legacy. Her mother, Mikisa
Thompson, organized around apartheid as a high school student in New York and said her daughter comes from “a long line of involvement and being, if not with
a movement, part of a movement by having brown skin.”
“We started going to meetings together, and I told her there’s too much talking not enough action,” she said. “She changed all that on the night of August 14, 2017, when she stood and made a decision to let the crowd decide if they were going to take the statue down.”
, who now lives in Durham, was there for that demonstration and this morning’s court appearances.
“I’m proud of my daughter,” she said. “First and foremost, she recognized that it’s not just a statue, that it represents much more than that. It represents the lives that were lost due to the enslavement of black people that built America.”
Takiyah Thompson and her mother, Mikisa.
As for the charges filed against her daughter: “I don’t feel any way about it,” she says.
“I know that the courts are not set up for us. I’m a mother. I’m going to be worried, but I’m not explicitly worried because I know that the movement is bigger than the courthouse and that the judges, lawyers, and Sheriff’s Office most likely already made up their minds.”
Felony charges for inciting a riot
have been filed against the demonstrators. Some elected officials have called for those charges to be dropped (others have said even misdemeanor property damage charges against the group should also be dismissed), and Durham County District Attorney Roger Echols has said he will only prosecute people directly involved in pulling down the monument. As they did on August 14
, deputies today filmed the brief rally around the Confederate monument, which is on county property.
Judge Brian Wilks continued all of today’s cases to November 14. In the meantime, other demonstrators have appearances set for October 11.