Protesters arrested in toppling of Confederate statue

  • Protesters pulled down a statue of a Confederate soldier, leaving just the pedestal in Durham, N.C., Aug. 15, 2017. In Durham, officials said they would punish perpetrators after the statue was toppled during a protest expressing sympathy with victims of the violence in Charlottesville. NYT/MADELINE GRAY

New York Times News Service
Published: 8/16/2017 11:43:55 AM

DURHAM, N.C. — Sheriff’s deputies in this predominantly liberal city began arresting protesters yesterday who they said tore down a statue honoring proslavery secessionists, while the state’s Democratic governor pledged to repeal a state law that had prevented such monuments from being removed through legal means.

Protesters had gathered in Durham on Monday evening to support victims of the weekend’s deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which had been called in opposition to the removal of a statue of the Confederate general Robert E. Lee. Before they were through, the Durham demonstrators ripped down the statue, which had stood since 1924 and was protected by a special state law, while law enforcement officers stood by.

But on Tuesday, a clearly irate Sheriff Michael D. Andrews of Durham County, responding to apparent criticism that his officers had not done enough, announced that he would use “every legal option available to us” to find and arrest those who had torn down the statue — including videos of the protest that had been posted on social media and widely shared.

“Let me be clear,” he said at a news conference. “No one is getting away with what happened. We will find the people responsible.”

Hours later, word that deputies were raiding the houses of people suspected of being involved in the demonstration reached activists holding a news conference about the protest at North Carolina Central University, a historically black institution in Durham. One of the speakers, Takiya Thompson, a student at the university and a member of the Workers World Party who said she had climbed the statue on Monday and put on one of the straps used to pull it down, was arrested by two uniformed sheriff’s deputies as she left the communications building.

“I chose to do that because I am tired of living in fear. I am tired of white supremacy keeping its foot on my neck and the neck of people who look like me,” Thompson, who is black, told reporters shortly before her arrest. “I was inspired by a history of black activists and history of black organizing.”

During the march in Durham, about 170 miles south of Charlottesville, protesters had gathered around the old county courthouse, currently used as a county administration building, where a statue erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and inscribed “In memory of the boys who wore the gray” had stood since 1924. Several dozen black and white protesters cheered as a small group threw yellow straps around the figure, pulled it off its granite pedestal and watched it crash to the ground, where some kicked it and others celebrated. Many chanted: “No Trump! No KKK! No fascist U.S.A.!”

Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat who was elected in a close race last year, wrote on Twitter after the protest that “the racism and deadly violence in Charlottesville is unacceptable but there is a better way to remove these monuments.”

There are, however, few legal options for doing so: A 2015 state law bans the removal of monuments and other landmarks without state approval. That law was passed by the Republican Legislature and signed by former Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, during a debate over the removal of a Confederate statue known as “Silent Sam” on the campus of the University of North Carolina in nearby Chapel Hill. That statue was covered with a hood during a protest after the violence in Charlottesville.

Around the time of Thompson’s arrest, Cooper’s office published a statement calling on the Legislature to repeal the law protecting such monuments. He also said he had asked the state’s Department of Natural and Cultural Resources “to determine the cost and logistics of removing Confederate monuments from state property as well as alternatives for their placement at museums or historical sites where they can be studied in context.”

Cooper also said the Legislature should defeat a bill, which has passed the State House and is pending in the Senate, that would grant immunity to drivers who hit protesters. The bill was introduced before the car attack at the demonstration in Charlottesville. “Those who attack protesters, weaponizing their vehicles like terrorists, should find no safe haven in our state,” Cooper said.

Officials in Nashville, Tennessee; Jacksonville, Florida; Lexington, Kentucky; Annapolis, Maryland; and many other cities, particularly in the South, are trying to determine the appropriate political and law enforcement response to protests against Confederate monuments.

In Jacksonville, the Republican president of the City Council on Monday called for the removal and relocation of all the city’s Confederate monuments and markers on public property, and asked parks and planning officials to begin the process by conducting an inventory of all the Confederate symbols. The council member, Anna Lopez Brosche, said she would like for the monuments to be moved to museums and educational institutions.

“I have no desire to erase history,” Brosche said. “I don’t have the power to erase history. I want to turn this into a way that we can use it as an education tool.”

In Durham, the Confederate statue had long been an incongruity. The city has a strong black community that makes up about 38 percent of the population, with 13 percent Hispanic and 42 percent non-Hispanic white. The statue stood almost exactly on the fault line of a wave of gentrification that has been pushing eastward through the city, turning abandoned tobacco warehouses and struggling stores into thriving bars, hotels and restaurants, while pushing out longtime black residents and merchants.

It was erected in 1924 during a wave of installations of Confederate memorials, mass-produced and promoted in regional advertising campaigns across the South in the 1920s. The monument’s cheap construction was immediately apparent on Monday evening, as the statue and top of the pedestal toppled easily, and the bronze figure bent like a paper clip immediately upon impact with the ground.

The statue was manufactured by the McNeel Marble Co. of Marietta, Georgia, which advertised in magazines and newspapers targeting Confederate veterans and their heirs in the early 20th century. One ad called the company “The South’s Largest Monumental Plant” and boasted of it having made monuments for dozens of Southern cities and towns that “the old heroes of the ‘60s can enjoy before it is too late.”

That era was marked by a backlash against black demands for civil rights, stoked in part by the return of African-American veterans from World War I, including the massacre of black businessmen and other citizens by a white mob at Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1921. When the statue was raised in Durham, an area that was known as Black Wall Street — home to black-owned banks, insurance companies and other businesses — thrived only a block away.

© 2017 New York Times News Service

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