The struggle continues in Durham, North Carolina, where the community came together to topple a symbol to white supremacy in the form of a Confederate monument, in response to events in Charlottesville, Virginia and the murder of Heather Heyer.
The Durham monument, dedicated to “the boys who wore the gray” was erected in 1924 during the height of Jim Crow as a powerful statement that the state and its institutions belonged to the white elite. The sheriff’s department responded to the taking down of the statue with a witch-hunt against local activists and the pursuit of felony charges.
Four days after the murder of Heather Heyer, activists were informed that the Ku Klux Klan was attempting to organize a march on Durham and several hundred people flooded the streets of Durham in counter-protest forcing the Klan to forego their action. At the protest, police arrested people who came ready to defend the community against right wing violence like that displayed only days earlier in Charlottesville.
Around the two groups of arrestees the group Defend Durham arose which is using the highly public
legal battle to raise up issues faced by working class people and targeted communities locally.
Under enormous public pressure from the community, the district attorney has dropped charges on three arrestees and has informally agreed not to pursue the fallacious felony riot charges against the rest though the misdemeanor charges still stand.
Scott Holmes, the lead attorney in the Defend Durham legal team, spoke with Liberation. He said that the current charges are serious and that if they were found guilty the class 1 misdemeanor charges of damage to real property could result in “120 days in jail” and the misdemeanor charge of damage to personal property could result in “another 6 months in jail”.
The felony charge of inciting a riot, if not actually dropped, could increase the sentences and send them to prison.
The first day of trial will be on Tuesday Dec 5. There will be a Defend Durham rally outside of the courthouse in addition to a people’s tribunal.
Sick of constantly reacting to attacks, the Defend Durham movement is organizing the a people’s tribunal designed to put the state, specifically local government, on trial for its defense of white supremacy. From its racist policing and brutality, to its ICE collaboration, assault on working
class people, and its inhumane jail and prison system which is responsible for the wrongful deaths of three people in recent years. More activities for a people’s tribunal are set to come out later.
While anti-racist protesters are on trial, the North Carolina General Assembly has been taking steps to keep Confederate statues. A 2015 law, GS 100-2, passed by the N.C. General Assembly, prohibits local governments from removing Confederate statues. Asked about this Holmes explained that “the General Assembly removed the ability for local governments to remove Confederate or any other statue from a public square without going through a commission in Raleigh.” He added that this law, which the Republican party was enthusiastic about, contradicts that party’s supposed belief in “states’ rights” and “local control” over federal “interference.”
Asked why the General Assembly would pass such a bill Holmes replied that it’s because they “believe in the heritage of white supremacy” and that they want to “protect the symbols and history of white supremacy.”
Political consciousness and community solidarity in Durham is strong and growing. The people demand justice against a state too beholden white supremacy and capitalism to serve the community and so must build their own power.
We urge anyone available to attend the Defend Durham protests. Additionally people can call the Durham County DA, Roger Echols, at (919) 808-3010 and ask them to drop all charges against the Durham anti-racist activists for the events in Durham related to the toppling of the Confederate statue.