This past Monday, on the heels of the racial divide in Charlottesville, protesters in Durham gathered in front of the former Durham County Courthouse to confront a symbol of hate and white supremacy. Again today our community was called back to this place to take a stand against threats from white supremacists. For many, the Confederate Soldiers Monument that bore the quotation, “In memory of the boys who wore gray” was a symbol of horror, terror, violence and inequality for people of color. Fueled by the desire for change, activists took a non-violent direct action in response to a North Carolina State law, that has made it illegal to remove confederate symbols on public property without the permission of state officials.
To date, several of the organizers and protesters have been charged with both felony and misdemeanor offenses for their civil disobedience. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., said it best, “our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” The moment we don’t collectively support and rally behind our friends and neighbors who are condemning hatred is the moment that we cease to exist.
The Durham People’s Alliance Board & Race Equity Team support the efforts of the activists who answered the call to dismantle symbols of hate. As leaders of PA, we will be taking the following actions:
Contacting the District Attorney’s Office and asking them to consider the motivations of the protestors and their strong desire to rid our community of monuments that commemorate domestic terrorism. 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. In that spirit, we ask that these activists be granted amnesty in exchange for successful completion of community service or that they be extended an opportunity to have their prosecutions deferred or that the State elect to proceed only on the misdemeanor offenses. Further, we are all aware of the perils that convicted felons face as it relates to employment and housing. For their actions such a stiff penalty would be excessive and unjustly punitive for those who acted to build a more just Durham.
Asking the County Commissioners to each make a public statement about the action, advocate for charges to be dropped, and make an unequivocal pledge that no monuments that commemorate defenders of white supremacy be erected in Durham. On Friday, Commissioner Heidi Carter released a statement that included her outreach to the DA and Sheriff expressing her position: “I hope that the legal process will unfold with leniency for those who were taking a stand through civil disobedience against racism and white supremacy.” We commend Commissioner Carter for releasing this statement, and expect every County Commissioner to make a public stance about this.
In 1963, Dr. King penned in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, “nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.” The removal of the Confederate Soldiers Monument has sparked a conversation around the country, one that is necessary in order for our country to heal from its deep-seated wounds of white supremacy.
As a community we have been called to champion those who have been ignored, mistreated and condemned. The conversation that rests on the table before our elected officials is so crisis packed that this will inevitably open the door to negotiation. It is our hope that the catalysts to this movement are not severely punished and that our legislature will agree to remove the confederate monuments across our state.
In love and solidarity,
The Durham People’s Alliance Board & Race Equity Team