Durham County

A month after toppling statue, protesters continue anti-racist message in Durham

Protesters kick off national week of action with court appearance, march, and victory celebration

Video: Dozens of protesters gathered to kick off a national week of action against white supremacy, planned around the one month anniversary of Charlottesville, and coincidentally on a court date for several activists arrested in connection with t
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Video: Dozens of protesters gathered to kick off a national week of action against white supremacy, planned around the one month anniversary of Charlottesville, and coincidentally on a court date for several activists arrested in connection with t

People recognize Takiyah Thompson since she climbed a ladder, slipped a yellow strap around a Confederate statue and helped topple it from in front of the old Durham County courthouse.

Some have thanked her. Others have threatened her.

“What I did and what the people of Durham did has really pushed history forward in the face of racism, in the face of repression and in the face of people who are emboldened by racist symbols,” said Thompson, a student at N.C. Central University who turns 23 Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Thompson and others took to downtown streets again. They called for the charges to be dropped against those arrested after recent protests. They called for toppling other Confederate statues as well as prisons, police departments and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which they said all contribute to systemic racism.

Meanwhile, a group of business leaders met at the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce to discuss their growing concerns that recent demonstrations are having a negative impact on the city.

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Court hearing

People started to gather outside the Durham County courthouse around 8 a.m. Tuesday, many wearing black T-shirts and hats that said “Do it like Durham.”

At a 9 a.m. court hearing, nine of the 11 people charged with felonies and misdemeanors made a second court appearance. Their attorney Scott Holmes was unable to attend, and their next court date was set for Nov. 14.

“No Trump! No KKK! No racists USA!” they chanted as they left the courthouse.

“We all are more free thanks to the action that we took on Aug. 14,” Thompson said as the crowd gathered in a light rain. “And we know that struggle is not an event. It’s a lifetime commitment.”

Thompson, a member of the Workers World Party, a socialist group, has been hailed by some since demonstrators brought down the Durham statue in response to violent clashes between white nationalists and counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Most of the roughly 100 people Tuesday were from Durham, but some came from as far as Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and New Orleans.

Mike Wilson, 60, who drove from Philadelphia, said he is member of the Workers World Party and a black man who is insulted by the Confederate statues that dot the country.

People call them monuments, but in reality they are oppressive symbols put up by men who wanted to hold their foot on the necks of people of color, he said.

Most of the crowd marched from the courthouse to the jail, and then took to the middle of East Main Street to make their way to the old courthouse, where the statue once stood. They held a sign that said “From Durham & Charlottesville to the White House Tear Down Racism.”

Thompson said the struggle against white supremacy isn’t a ripe apple ready to fall from a tree.

“We have to shake it down, right? We have to make it fall,” she said. “When white supremacy falls, and when this system of capitalism that subjugates all of us falls, it is going to fall fast and it is going to crumple like that piece of s--- statue.”

Next the crowd, thinning, marched to Mangum Street, turned onto Foster Street, and stopped at Durham Central Park. A police car followed behind, blocking traffic in some cases.

Loan Tran, 22, one of those charged with toppling the statue, said Tuesday celebrated the people’s resistance.

They will continue their gatherings, Tran said, supporting those in court and telling stories that need to be told.

“There are so many struggles that happen every single day that exemplify the fight against white supremacy and the toppling of the statue is only one part of that,” Tran said.

Chamber of Commerce concerns

While protesters marched Tuesday, business leaders met to discuss events like the Aug. 18 counterprotest to a rumored KKK rally that brought hundreds of people downtown and closed many offices and businesses.

“We have deep concerns about the safety of people and businesses downtown when you have weapons, like axes, machetes and guns,” said Durham mayoral candidate Farad Ali, who attended the meeting at the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce.

“People have the right to protest and express their concerns and discontent. ... (Hate) has no place in our city,” he said. “But we want businesses and their employees to also have safety. ... Businesses closed because they were scared not for their business but their employees.”

It is unclear what the chamber’s next steps will be. Efforts to reach chairman George Habel and President Geoff Durham for comment were unsuccessful.

Virginia Bridges: 919-829-8924, @virginiabridges