Activists Who Helped Topple Durham Confederate Statue Face Charges As Baltimore, Philadelphia Authorities Tackle Monuments

By Sameer Rao Aug 16, 2017

Last weekend’s deadly racist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia—which grew out of White supremacists protesting the removal of a Confederate statue—has forced cities across the country to reckon with their own physical tributes to Confederate and other racist figures.

In Durham, North Carolina, an action involving several advocacy and leftist groups led to the destruction of a Confederate monument. Now, the Durham County sheriff’s department is charging three participants with felony offenses related to their involvement.

The CBS News video below shows 22-year-old college student Takiyah Thompson scaling what what local outlet WRAL identifies as the city’s Confederate Memorial Statue during an action at Durham County’s old courthouse on Monday evening (August 14). Thompson can be seen carrying yellow flat rope up to the statue as protesters chant, "We are the revolution" and "No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA." An unidentified person in the crowd then pulls on the tape, taking the statue’s head with it. 

"I’m tired of White supremacy keeping its foot on my neck and the necks of people who look like me," Thompson told WRAL and other assembled media at a press conference on Tuesday (August 15). "That statue glorifies the conditions that oppressed people live in, and it had to go."

The Herald-Sun reports that Durham County sheriff Michael Andrews responded to the action by sending deputies to arrest Thompson, who turned herself into their custody immediately after the press conference. She faces misdemeanor charges for disorderly conduct and property damage, and felony charges for participation and incitement of a riot with more than $1,500 property damage. The sheriff department’s statement regarding the charges lists participation and incitement as Class H and Class F felonies, respectively; a sentencing guide published by the state-affiliated North Carolina Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission lists maximum sentences of eight (Class H) and 20 months (Class F) for first-time offenders.

The Herald-Sun also reports that Andrews’ office arrested two other participants, Dante Strobino and Ngoc Loan Tran, when they attended Thompson’s county court hearing this morning (August 16). The Durham branch of the Workers World Party, a self-described "revolutionary socialist organization" that the Herald-Sun says participated in Monday’s action alongside other leftist groups, identify Thompson, Strobino and Loan Tran as members on its Facebook page. Strobino and Loan Tran received the same charges as Thompson, and the Party is campaigning on Facebook for them to be dropped.

Supporters like Dr. Yaba Blay, who said on Twitter that Thompson is one of her students at the historically Black North Carolina Central University, pointed supporters to a fund supporting bond for the three arrested organizers. Local outlet ABC 11 notes that Thompson is now out. 

Meanwhile, in Baltimore, city contractors quickly took down the city’s last four Confederate monuments overnight. The Baltimore Sun reports that the removals came soon after mayor Catherine Pugh’s Charlottesville-motivated executive decision. “It’s done,” Pugh told The Sun this morning. “They needed to come down. My concern is for the safety and security of our people. We moved as quickly as we could. … I did not want to endanger people in my own city.”

Charlottesville compelled Philadelphia to reevaluate a statue for a different figure with a racist legacy. City councilwoman Helen Gym called on the city to remove a statue of former police commissioner and mayor Frank Rizzo in the tweet above. Mayor Jim Kenney responded to the call in a statement to local outlet Billy Penn: "We think now is a good time to have that conversation about the statue’s future. We need to figure out the proper forum for that conversation in a serious, structured way, but now is the right time.”

Rizzo’s heavy-handed policing tactics pitted him against much of the city’s Black community. A 2015 VICE retrospective notes that he once advocated for Black Panther Party members to "be strung up" before ordering a 1970 police raid on their Philadelphia headquarters and making occupants strip naked in the street. He also prompted confrontation with the Black radical, back-to-nature group MOVE before his successor ordered a bombing of their headquarters.