Protesters threw a rope around a statue of a Confederate soldier and pulled it down last night in Durham. In a stunning video shot by reporter Derrick Lewis, you can hear the crowd chant “No KKK! No fascist USA!” as the cord is pulled taut, and then, a clean break: the soldier and the base he stood on are separated from their pedestal. The crowd erupts in cheers as people take turns kicking the sculpted soldier, whose dramatic fall calls to mind the toppling of statues of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Lenin in Ukraine in recent years.
The action came just a day after a violent weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, where white supremacists and neo-Nazis converged for a gathering called “Unite the Right.” Over the course of two days, they terrorized the town, assaulting counter-protesters and surrounding students on the University of Virginia campus. On Saturday, a neo-Nazi, allegedly James Alex Fields, drove a car into a crowd of peaceful counter-protesters, killing one person named Heather Heyer and injuring 19 more. The police did little to intervene.
In Durham yesterday, the police also held back; according to the News & Observer, the cops did not arrest anyone, and sheriff’s deputies recorded the statue toppling but did not attempt to stop it. This morning, however, the Durham County Sheriff’s Office announced that it would use the video to identify and bring vandalism charges against those responsible for the incident.
Last night’s gathering began as an anti-racist rally in solidarity with Charlottesville. Members of the Workers World Party, Democratic Socialists of America, and Antifa were part of the crowd, which had swelled to about 100 people by the time the statue came down.
The governor of North Carolina, Democrat Roy Cooper, condemned the DIY dismantling on Twitter a few hours later:
A member of the Durham City Council had a more coy response:
I get emails.
I send emails in reply. pic.twitter.com/48uK4fay3q
— Charlie Reece (@CharlieReece) August 15, 2017
Unlike the monument to General Robert E. Lee that became the white supremacists’ rallying cry in Charlottesville, the Durham statue shows only a generic Confederate soldier standing with his gun. Such sculptures were mass produced, often in the northern United States, after the Civil War. The statue was erected in May 1924 on Durham County land, and the News & Observer reported that today’s Board of Commissioners knows very little about it. “We don’t even have basic information about the history of the statue,” said County Commissioners Chairwoman Wendy Jacobs, who had asked her staff to begin researching it earlier in the day before it was torn down. “We don’t know anything about what the current laws are,” she added.
In fact, in 2015, after white supremacist Dylann Roof killed nine African Americans at a church in Charleston, SC, setting off a nationwide debate about Confederate symbols, North Carolina passed a bill making it difficult to remove them. The law bans “state agencies and local governments from taking down any ‘object of remembrance’ on public property that ‘commemorates an event, a person, or military service that is part of North Carolina’s history,’” according to the News & Observer. In order to remove a Confederate monument or move it to a new location that’s not of “similar prominence,” then, a state law would be required.
Elsewhere around the country yesterday, a 113-year-old Confederate statue nicknamed “Old Joe” was removed in Gainesville, Florida, and protesters wrote “Black Lives Matter” and “Smash white supremacy” on one of Baltimore’s Confederate monuments. The Baltimore City Council also passed a resolution calling for the destruction of the city’s Confederate monuments, not long after Mayor Catherine Pugh pledged to remove them.