District Attorney Roger Echols says felony charges against a group accused of pulling down a Confederate monument downtown still stand, despite an announcement in court this morning to the contrary.
This morning, seven people charged in connection with the August 14 toppling of the monument appeared in court, where their attorney, Scott Holmes, said Echols had agreed not to proceed with felony charges of inciting a riot.
In an email, Echols said the charges remain. The demonstrators are also facing misdemeanor property damage charges.
"I wasn’t in Court but I understand Attorney Holmes made comments about felonies being dismissed or off the table or something to that effect. Mr. Holmes may be responding or speaking about what he expects to be the case based on conversations with this office. Unfortunately or fortunately I cannot talk about what our conversations have been or even what our negotiations have been. That would even include confirming whatever he’s said or denying it’s accuracy. Of course I don’t know what has been said/ or not said in court by those prosecutors representing the State."
The demonstrators' cases were continued until December 5. Property damage and rioting charges against three people were recently dismissed because there was "no visual evidence" they were involved, according to court documents.
After brief court appearances, the group, known as Defend Durham, held a press conference calling for all remaining charges to be dropped and to announce the formation of a commission of inquiry” to investigate what they called obstruction of justice by the General Assembly in passing a 2015 law that protects monuments like the one torn down; collusion by elected officials to target poor communities and communities of Colorado; and negligent homicide by Durham County Sheriff Mike Andrews for multiple deaths that have occurred at the jail since his appointment.
The group says it plans to gather testimony and evidence and present it to a “people's tribunal,” where those accused “will be given a full opportunity to present their own defense.”
According to a press release, “The Commission of Inquiry seeks to shed light on crimes against the people, including repression and intimidation of organizers and other vulnerable communities impacted by police brutality, immigration raids and deportations, low-wage work, LGBTQ discrimination, and more—which are the true crimes being committed by the general assembly, the Trump administration, local sheriff's department, and others in power."
Community activists including Lamont Lilly, of the Workers World Party; former mayoral candidate Pierce Freelon; SpiritHouse's Tia Hall; Rafiq Zaidi with Inside-Outside Alliance; Reverend Curtis Gatewood with Stop Killing Us; Elijah Pryor with Changing Colors Changing Lanes; Durham for All's Laila Nur; Takiyah Thompson, who climbed the statue during the August 14 demonstration, and her mother, Mikisa
Thompson, as well as several other arrestees were on hand. Lilly said Thompson's family has been facing death threats since.
"What side of history do you want to be on?" Hall asked. "Yes, it was a people's decision to put that monument up, but that monument stood for hate, oppression, and repression again and again. ... People had to walk past [the old county courthouse] daily in hopes of justice. I don't think that meant justice for our community."
Representatives of Jewish Voice for Peace and the People's Alliance read statements in support of the demonstrators. A member of the Durham Human Relations Commission read a resolution passed by the body calling for felony charges to be dropped and all objects commemorating the Confederacy to be removed.
"The removal of the Confederate soldiers monument has sparked a conversation around the country, one that is necessary in order for our country to heal from its deep-seated wounds of white supremacy," said Kristen Cox, on behalf of the People's Alliance. "It is our hope that the catalysts of this movement are not severely punished and that our legislature will agree to remove Confederate monuments across our state."
In a press release
, the North Carolina Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans says it is outraged and disgusted by the prospect of felony charges against the demonstrators (who the group called "self-styled communists" and "immature demagogues") being dropped. Members also disagree with Durham County Commissioners' recent valuation of the statue
"It seems that on both fronts, the county is determined to undervalue the damage and selectively enforce the law based on political whims," the statement reads.