On Tuesday evening North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper posted a public statement to the website Medium, weighing in on the now raging Confederate memorials controversy: "These monuments should come down," he said. Cooper further called for the state legislature to repeal a law which seeks to prevent state and local authorities from removing them permanently. Cooper published the statement in the wake of a Confederate statue being unlawfully removed by protesters in Durham as local police reportedly stood by.
On Monday Americans beheld the spectacle of an angry mob pulling down the nearly century old Confederate memorial in front the historic Durham County Court House in North Carolina with no police in sight. Hundreds of antifa protesters which had converged at the location for what organizers called an "emergency protest" in response to racial violence turned fatal in Virginia over the weekend surrounded the monument - a bronze statue of a lone Confederate soldier marching - and quickly pulled it down using a heavy duty rope. The 15-feet tall monument was erected in 1924 and engraved at the base with the words, “In memory of ‘the boys who wore the gray.’ ”
But on Tuesday the Durham County Sheriff’s Office arrested one of the leaders and organizers of the event, Takiya Thompson, a 22-year old student who is depicted in the video as tying the rope around the statue. Thompson was assisted by a few others as she brought a ladder to the base from the back and ascended to the top with the rope - after which the statue and a stone base came crashing down with protesters immediately kicking and spitting on the toppled bronze soldier to the cheers of the crowd.
Students chant: "Cops and Klan go hand in hand!" as Takiya Thompson is arrested.
The chaotic scene included a crowd of mostly young people circling the statue chanting anti-KKK slogans and yelling for it to be ripped down. Video of the incident quickly went viral and was featured on evening cable news - with some commentators like Fox's Tucker Carlson questioning why the police didn't appear to be present and failed to prevent the vandalism and destruction of a state monument on county court house grounds.
Thompson was arrested at her college - the historically black North Carolina Central University - on various charges which include misdemeanor and felony offenses. Specific charges according to the Durham County Sheriff’s Office are injury to a statue, damage to real property, participation in a riot with property damage in excess of $1,500 and inciting others to riot with property damage over $1,500. The latter two charges are felonies which carry the potential for a combined sentence of up to 22 months behind bars.
Video of Thompson's arrest was also circulated widely online accompanied with demands for her release. Various "antifa" associated groups have framed the issue as a necessary step in combatting racial hatred and violence, though chants and signs at the statue site clearly had a much broader political agenda with messages such as, "No Trump, No KKK, No Fascist USA!". Thompson herself, who is part of the far-left Workers World Party described her actions as tearing down "vestiges of white supremacy" to a local news station, and further stated at a Monday news conference, “I’m tired of white supremacy keeping its foot on my neck and the necks of people who look like me... That statue glorifies the conditions that oppressed people live in, and it had to go.”
On its website Workers World Party defines itself as, "a revolutionary Marxist-Leninist party dedicated to organizing and fighting for a socialist revolution in the United States and around the world." Other groups present at the statue vandalism included the Triangle People’s Assembly, Industrial Workers of the World, Democratic Socialists of America, and a mix of other extreme left antifa protesters. One member with the Workers World Party told local station WRAL-TV that "we are at war":
We know that after Charlottesville and all of the racist incidents beforehand, all of the police killings, we are at war. This is war.
Responding to criticism that no state or local authorities intervened as the mob pulled down the statue, Durham county sheriff Mike Andrews said at a press conference on Tuesday that police were worried the crowd would get violent. Sheriff Andrews said:
Don't mistake restraint for inaction. Had I ordered my deputies to engage a hostile crowd, there would have been serious injuries. Statues can be replaced; lives cannot... Let me be clear, no one is getting away with what happened. We will find the people responsible... We can all agree yesterday went too far. Yesterday was not the Durham that I know."
The question of whether the country is facing more racially charged violence in the days and weeks ahead is now the chief issue in national public discourse - it's a question that many Americans likely didn't expect to be asking in 2017. As we reported Tuesday, the issue is now raising the temperature at White House press briefings, and is set to supplant even the Russia probe. In a highly contentious and apparently improvised White House press conference addressing the weekend violence in Charlottesville and the issue of removing Confederate statues across the country, President Trump controversially stated:
This week it's Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder is it George Washington next week and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself where does it stop.
As discussed previously, it is unlikely that the majority of Americans will readily identify with the representative camps on either side. White nationalists and neo-Nazis on the one hand, and counter-protesters declaring "socialist revolution in the United States" and "war" on all historical monuments deemed tainted by a racist past on the other, are unlikely to attract most ordinary Americans increasingly sickened by the entire escalating spectacle.