More than 100 people rallied outside the Durham County magistrate’s office Thursday morning, calling for the county to drop charges against activists who toppled a Confederate statue Monday.
Four activists for whom the sheriff’s office had outstanding warrants related to Monday’s protest turned themselves in Thursday. Dozens symbolically lined up to take responsibility for the toppling of the statue in solidarity but were not arrested or booked.
Among those who were booked Thursday were Aaron Caldwell, 24; Elena Everett, 37 and Raul Mauro Arce Jimenez, 26 and Taylor Alexander Jun Cook, 24.
Those activists joined four who were already arrested earlier this week. They were Takiyah Fatima Thompson, 22; Dante Emmanuel Strobino, 35; Peter Hull Gilbert, 36; and Ngoc Loan Tran, 24 – all of Durham. Thompson, who climbed the statue and affixed a rope to help pull it down, was arrested on Tuesday. The arrests of Strobino, Tran and Gilbert all followed on Wednesday.
All eight activists have been charged with disorderly conduct by injury to a statue and damage to real property. Those are both which are both misdemeanors. They are also charged with participation in a riot with property damage in excess of $1,500 and inciting others to riot where property damage exceeds $1,500, both of which are felonies.
Lamont Lilly of the Workers World Party helped to organize the rally Thursday. He told the crowd that his shared house was raided by Durham County sheriff’s deputies this week who said they had a warrant for the ladder Thompson used to climb the statue. The deputies damaged doors and furniture in a needlessly aggressive search, Lilly said.
“We feel violated as community members, as stakeholders in this city,” Lilly said.
“They will come for Black folks first,” Lilly told the crowd. “We will catch the hell first. But they will come for other communities later, so we must stand in solidarity.”
Lilly said he felt inspired by the large crowd that turned out to support those arrested. It showed broad support for the dropping of felony charges, Lilly said. Monday’s action was necessary and represented the will of the people in opposition to the white supremacy represented by the statue, he said.
“This is beautiful,” Lilly said of the demonstration. “This is what a democracy really looks like, when you have black folk and brown folk, women, men, queer and trans, Muslim and Christian and folks of all different walks here in this community. This is what democracy looks like – those who are speaking to the issues of social justice, who are speaking to racism and white supremacy, the issues of poor and oppressed people.”
“This line is phenomenal right now,” Lilly said, gesturing behind him to a line of dozens who said they were willing to be arrested in solidarity with those who toppled the statue.
None of those who did not have active warrants and were not part of Monday’s protest were actually arrested. Sheriff’s deputies turned them away, saying they had committed no crime.
Dr. Serena Sebring, an organizer with Southerners on New Ground, said the demonstration was none-the-less important.
“We’re very happy with the peoples’ initiative and we’re happy with having called their bluff,” Sebring said of people symbolically offering themselves for arrest in solidarity. “This is about taking shared responsibility in our community for something that needed to happen. What you saw was a peaceful assembly, not a riot.”
“I was not there that day,” Sebring said. “But I feel strongly that it needed to come down, I support it coming down and I would have pulled that rope if I was there.”
“We showed up toda
y and we were ready and willing to be charged,” said Danielle Purifoy, 33, of Durham Beyond Policing. “We’re thrilled with the turnout – having this many people standing up against white supremacy.”
Purifoy said those engaged in activism and protests of the type that topped the statue always know there is a danger of arrest – but felony charges surprised many and seemed extraordinarily harsh.
Anthony Gottschalk, 42, said the toppling of the statue was part of waking people up to the reality of white supremacy – which is what monuments to the Confederacy are, however used to them society might have become.
“It’s part of calling it what it is,” Gottschalk said. “And these groups, these hate organizations need to be labelled for what they are too. They’re not white nationalists – they’re terrorists.”
Philip Marschall, 28, said he agreed.
“Taking down the statue is something that should have happened a long time ago,” Marschall said. “That’s what the county should be concerning itself with – not charging the people who did it.”