On Monday evening during a rally against white supremacy, demonstrators in Durham, N.C., toppled a Confederate statue that had been standing in front of the old courthouse in the city’s downtown area. On Tuesday morning, Takiyah Thompson, the black woman who tied the noose around the statue’s neck so it could be pulled down, was one of the first to be arrested for her part in the demonstration.
Three more demonstrators were arrested on Wednesday morning, and on Thursday morning, activists who believe law-enforcement officials are targeting racial-justice organizers gathered en masse to turn themselves in as well.
Pictures and video posted to Twitter showed a crowd of what could be 100 or more people gathered outside the Durham County Sheriff’s Office to “confess” their part in taking down a monument to our country’s racist past.
ABC11 reports that supporters rallied outside the Durham County Courthouse at 8 a.m., just before the court appearance of three activists who had already been charged. Four other people who reportedly had warrants out for their arrest in connection with the statue’s toppling were taken into custody after turning themselves in.
Elena Everett, Aaron Caldwell and Raul Jimenez told ABC11 that they turned themselves in and were charged.
Those who tried to turn themselves in “symbolically” to protest the charges being pressed against the other activists were turned away.
The three activists who were arrested on Wednesday—Peter Gilbert, Dante Strobino and Ngoc Loan Tran—asked to be given the same Sept. 12 court date as Takiyah Thompson.
Strobino was arrested Wednesday outside the courtroom where Thompson was having her first court appearance. He told ABC11, “We’re going to fight to tear down white supremacists, to challenge the racist beliefs, to challenge the Sheriff’s.”
Thompson, Gilbert, Strobino and Tran all face two felony charges of participating in a riot causing more than $1,500 worth of property damage and inciting others to riot. They also face two misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct and property damage.
Everett, Caldwell and Jimenez face the same charges as well as felony charges for damaging the statue, which is valued in excess of $10,000.
The Workers World Party organized Monday’s rally, and many of the activists who were arrested are members. WWP is a communist party that was founded in 1959 by a group led by Socialist Workers Party leader Sam Marcy.
According to ABC11, the group supports issues such as anti-racism and is active in the Black Lives Matter movement. The group also supports the struggles of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community.
Thompson is a member of the WWP and a student at North Carolina Central University, a historically black college in Durham.
Thompson told ABC11, “The people decided to take matters into our own hands and remove the statue. We are tired of waiting on politicians who could have voted to remove the white supremacist statues years ago, but they failed to act. So we acted.”
Alissa Ellis is also a member of Workers World Party Durham, and she participated in the Charlottesville, Va., counterprotests. She told ABC11:
Charlottesville and racist monuments across the country are the result of centuries of white supremacy. But we cannot ignore the fact that the current Trump administration has emboldened more Nazis, KKK, and white supremacists to target, brutalize, and kill our communities. The White House and its elected white supremacists are just as responsible as hooded Klansmen and racist vigilantes for what happened. They have blood on their hands.
As a reminder, the incidents in Charlottesville stemmed from a white supremacist protest against the removal of Confederate monuments in public spaces there. Why are people fighting so hard to hold on to these things? What value are they adding to our current society?
There is the tired argument that they represent history and help us learn from it, but as Alex McDaniel recently said in Time:
Concern about erasing history by eliminating Confederate monuments is ironic considering most of them tell a false version of the history they were built to preserve. Monuments reflecting historical events aren’t the problem. Confederate monuments — most of them built decades after the war — don’t tell the real story.
... Confederate statues don’t tell the story of the Civil War, but rather how people wanted the war to be remembered. It didn’t matter that the glossy narrative of the Confederacy’s fight for liberty stood in stark contrast to the words of its leaders who decades earlier clung to the preservation of slavery and economic prosperity as the primary cause of secession. Monuments served not only to freeze that sentiment but to establish Southern white supremacy as a distinct cultural force destined to rise again.
As the debate and the arrests related to Monday’s event continued (but shockingly, none related to the Charlottesville incident), a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee was defaced near the entrance of Duke Chapel on the campus of Duke University sometime overnight Wednesday. Parts of Lee’s face had been chipped off, including all of his nose.
University spokesman Keith Lawrence told the News & Observer that campus police are investigating and a further statement from Duke officials is forthcoming.
Meanwhile, WRAL reports that Durham County Sheriff Mike Andrews said in a statement that the protesters gathered outside the sheriff’s office on Thursday morning were welcome if they obtained a permit and remained peaceful.
“The Sheriff’s Office supports the right to peaceable assembly,” Andrews said. “As the custodian of the courthouse, the safety and security of visitors and employees will remain a top priority for the Sheriff’s Office. We have taken steps to ensure the daily operation of the courthouse can proceed without disruption. I expect participants in the planned rally to obtain a permit and engage in a peaceful demonstration. My Agency will continue to maintain the safety and security of the building.”
According to WRAL, a similar crowd is expected to gather on Friday when Caldwell, Jimenez and Everett have their first court appearance.