Six months after activists toppled a Durham County Confederate memorial statue, those charged with bringing it down are set to go to trial today.
The eight defendants appeared in Durham County District Court at 9 a.m. Monday. They face a series of individual trials that could run as late as 8 p.m.
The eight defendants are Takiyah Thompson, Elena Everett, Peter Gilbert, Raul Mauro Jimenez, Jessica Nicole Jude, Qasima Wideman, Dante Strobino, and Joseph Karlik.
They are each charged with three misdemeanors: conspiracy to deface real property, injury to real property, defacing a public building or monument, and conspiracy to deface a public building or monument.
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At 8:30 a.m., defendants and their supporters held a press conference outside the courthouse standing criticizing their prosecution.
“These individuals are putting our entire movement on trial, so they will feel the wrath and power of our entire movement,” said Loan Tran, who was also charged in the toppling but accepted a deal of deferred prosecution.
Instead of focusing on the real crimes of homelessness, poverty and fatal police shooting, prosecutors are focusing on people who “allegedly took very bold action to do something that we all needed done,” she said.
Not everyone waiting outside of the courthouse agreed.
William O’Quinn, capital brigade commander of the N.C. Sons of Confederate Veterans and a Durham resident, said a majority of people do not like what has unfolded since the statue was pulled down.
“They don’t like the monuments torn down,” said O’Quinn, who planned to attend the trial with two others members of the N.C. Sons of Confederate Veterans. “They don’t like the way the felonies have been dropped.”
Many people want the Confederate soldier who was pulled down to return, he said.
During a protest on Aug. 14, Thompson climbed a ladder, placed a yellow tow strap around a bronze Confederate soldier statue and others pulled it to the ground. The nearly century-old statue of the armed Confederate soldier crashed to the ground where it crumpled and protesters started kicking it. Thompson and some of the others who were charged are affiliated with the communist organization, the Workers World Party.
What has happened so far
Twelve people were each initially charged with two felonies and two misdemeanors in the case, but District Attorney Roger Echols later decided to not move forward with the felony charges.
Charges were dropped against three of the original 12 defendants because there were no evidence linking them to the toppling, Echols has said.
In December, a fourth defendant, Loan Tran, accepted deferred prosecution on three misdemeanor charges – injury to real property, damage to personal property and defacing a public monument – for helping to topple the statue. Tran also agreed to pay $1,250 in restitution and perform 100 hours of community service.
Defend Durham, a loose group formed to support those charged with the toppling and to fight racism, has sought support for the eight people still facing charges by asking people to call the Durham County District Attorney’s Office and Durham County Sheriff’s Office to demand the charges be dropped.
Since the August 14 action, statements of support have flooded in from across the state and country, according to a Defend Durham statement.
“The statue and others like it are the burdens of black people. This is our battle with history. These are brutal symbols of hate. The members of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People are indebted to all advocates of change. We are grateful for the witness of millennials for taking matters into their own hands,” stated a Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People statement released in September.
The city of Durham Human Rights Commission, also released a statement saying it “affirms the community’s request for the immediate removal of all Confederate memorials, flags, statues, memorabilia, plaques, certificates, or any other commemorative objects which exist on city or county property.”
The Durham People’s Alliance Board & Race Equity Team have also said they support the efforts of the activists dismantled “symbols of hate.”
“We ask the District Attorney’s Office to consider the motivations of the protesters and their desire to rid our community of monuments that commemorate domestic terrorism,” the statement said. “Given that a pernicious state law prohibits legal action to remove confederate statues, it is our belief that all charges should be dropped against these people who took an action that the rest of us in the community have for too long failed to take.”
Defend Durham also plans to have a 6 p.m. “solidarity march and rally” Monday beginning at the site of the Confederate monument and progressing to the Durham County courthouse.