Durham County

Eyewitnesses recount horror. Activists rally against ‘hate’ and in support of Charlottesville victims.

A driver in Pittsboro reacts as a group of protesters gather around the Confederate monument at the Chatham County Courthouse in Pittsboro Sunday for a vigil commemorating the victims of the protest-turned-deadly in Charlottesville, Va., on Saturday.
A driver in Pittsboro reacts as a group of protesters gather around the Confederate monument at the Chatham County Courthouse in Pittsboro Sunday for a vigil commemorating the victims of the protest-turned-deadly in Charlottesville, Va., on Saturday. ctoth@heraldsun.com

Protesters took to the streets in Durham, Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Hillsborough and Pittsboro Sunday to show their support for the victims of Saturday’s deadly protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, and opposition to white supremacists and hate.

The attack Saturday left a woman dead and some 19 others injured by a Dodge Charger allegedly driven through a group of protesters by 20-year-old James Alex Fields Jr. who has been charged with second-degree murder and other counts.

Locally, residents and politicians also took to social media Saturday and Sunday to express their concerns and outrage. A pair of area residents were at the demonstrations in Charlottesville Saturday and recalled the tragedy Sunday.

A crowd estimated at more than 500 demonstrators was on hand at a vigil Sunday night at CCB Plaza in downtown Durham demanding that elected officials condemn “the racist views espoused by Unite the Right participants, and publicly commit ourselves to resisting the cancer of white supremacy,” Eleanor Wertman of Indivisibull Durham said in a news release before the event.

The CCB Plaza vigil was sponsored by groups that included Durham for Organizing Action, Indivisibull Durham, IndivisiblesNC-District 1, Protecting Progress in Durham, Triangle Indivisible Daily Call to Action, Tuesdays with Tillis, and Together We Will North Carolina.

Durham Police Department spokesman Wil Glenn said before the CCB Plaza event: “The Durham Police Department will monitor the vigil and be prepared to respond appropriately.”

Durham Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Tamara Gibbs said the sheriff’s office would be available to assist the Durham Police Department.

The Bull City Hip Hop Youth Ambassadors held a vigil late Sunday afternoon at East End Park in Durham. A group of fewer than 10 young performers were on hand, along with reporters and photographers from several news outlets.

“The vigil is in response the atrocities occurring in Charlottesville, VA,” Bull City Hip Hop Youth Ambassadors representative Sandra Davis had said in an email Sunday afternoon. “Many of our inner city youth have expressed their fear, frustration, disappointment and anger. This will give our inner city youth and community the opportunity to express themselves in a safe and supportive environment. This is a positive outlet for the community to band together and vent their emotions.

In Pittsboro, about 30 demonstrators took part in a late afternoon rally in front of the historic Chatham County Courthouse. In Hillsborough, about 250 people took part in a downtown rally.

In Orange County, events were scheduled Sunday night in Carrboro and Chapel Hill, including a “Solidarity with Charlottesville” event at the so-called Silent Sam Confederate monument on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus.

The Durham Branch of the Workers World Party, a.k.a. “The Wobblies,” announced it would hold an “Emergency Protest — Solidarity with #Charlottlesville” demonstration at 6 p.m. Monday, Aug. 14 at the Confederate statue in front of the Old Durham County Courthouse at 200 E. Main St.

A Durham activist, Greg Williams, wrote on Facebook that he and other area activists were in Charlottesville Saturday and witnessed the moments when Fields Jr., 20, of Ohio, rammed his car into a group of protesters causing the death of 32-year-old Heather D. Heyer.

“I was 6 feet away and saw the racist ram his car into another car, which sent other cars, people, and glass flying,” Williams wrote. “I saw the bodies.”

Williams recounted that he heard screams.

“Contrary to reports that arose from video that showed us near the front of the line holding our IWW flags, no IWW members were killed,” Williams wrote. “But all of us are deeply affected by what we saw and heard.”

Williams feels “sick at heart,” he said. “This didn’t start in Charlottesville and it won’t end there.”

Elena Ceberio of Raleigh took part in Saturday’s Charlottesville demonstrations with her husband, Tony Quartararo, and their son, Beñat Quartararo, a rising college junior.

She and her husband on Sunday described what they saw.

“The folks from the alt right were throwing cans filled with concrete. The were throwing bottles containing urine. They were pepper spraying. … It was a day filled with surreal events. … People walking around with automatic weapons,” Ceberio said.

“We witnessed people beaten. We witnessed people bloody. … We were marching down Fourth Street when 20 yards from us we heard a bang and that bang unfortunately — we didn’t know it a the time — was the domestic terrorists banging into the two cars that propelled into the intersection.

“We turned and ran because we didn’t know if it was a gun or a bomb. … We saw compound fractures. We saw people carried away on stretchers with neck braces, with leg braces.”

Quartararo recalled: “White supremacists would stand in a circle of about 10 people in combat gear wielding clubs wrapped in the American flag. They would position themselves near the counter protesters. Stood there defiantly waiting for people to come up to them so that they could start beating on them. … It was a lot of intimidation that they were trying to exercise. … The alt right people were there to be vicious and to hurt people.”

Quartararo said he and his wife had been to HB2 protests in Raleigh and Durham but it was never like the protest in Charlottesville.

“There was no question it was domestic terrorism,” Ceberio said. “I think if more people do not stand up and stare this evil down, this evil could envelop the good because people are afraid and people are walking away because they are afraid. If they don’t see it, it doesn’t exist. Well we saw it. We felt it.”

Durham City Council members Charlie Reece and Jillian Johnson were asked via Twitter Sunday about the Bull City’s ability to remove the statue standing in front the Old Durham County Courthouse.

Reece pointed out that the statue in the question is on county, not city, property.

“Second, there’s always the threat of retaliation from the NCGA. That’s a big stick in any of these conversations. Especially since …,” Reece wrote. “… the third point: someone (NCGA? NC Historic Preservation Commission? private citizen?) would sue to halt removal or get it put back.”

Reece said it is illegal for local governments in North Carolina to remove such monuments.

“It’s one thing for members of a local elected body to engage in civil disobedience personally — as @SteveSchewel did during Moral Mondays,” Reece wrote. “It’s another thing altogether for an elected body to order their employees to take an action that is expressly prohibited by state law.

On Saturday State Sen. Mike Woodard, D-Durham, reminded his Twitter followers that in future in a bill under consideration in the state legislature, North Carolinians would be able to drive through protesters in roadways without being sued. He called for the bill to die in committee.

The proposed bill, North Carolina House Bill 330, states, a driver “while exercising due care” is immune from civil liability for injuries caused to another person, if the injured person was blocking traffic in a public street or highway at the time of their injury while participating in a demonstration or protest.

State Sen. Floyd McKissick Jr., D-Durham, expressed his condolences and said his thoughts and prayers were with the “anti-hate” protesters “run over by a motorist in an act of terrorism” on Facebook Saturday.

McKissick also critized the reaction of President Trump to the Charlottesville attack.

“President Donald Trump’s failure to repudiate in the strongest possible terms the white nationalists, white supremacists and neo-Nazis parading last night with fire lite torches and today through Charlottesville, Virginia is morally reprehensible …” McKissick wrote “… and it is offensive to the values of this Nation and all of us should be voicing our outrage.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

EDITOR’S NOTES: Kathryn Trogdon of The News & Observer interviewed Elena Ceberio and Tony Quartararo for this story. Herald-Sun staff members Mark Schultz, Mark Donovan and Casey Toth contributed to this report.

Colin Warren-Hicks: 919-419-6636, @CWarrenHicks

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