Sheriff to seek charges against North Carolina protesters accused of toppling Confederate statue

DURHAM, N.C. -- Durham County Sheriff Mike Andrews said his office will seek charges against protesters accused of pulling down a Confederate statue outside the old courthouse Monday evening.

Takiyah Thompson, 22, said she is a member of the Workers World party, which helped organize the protest. She said she climbed the ladder to put a nylon rope around the statue so others could pull it down. "I feel like it's important to tear down these vestiges of white supremacy," said Thompson.

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In a statement, Andrews said he was grateful that no one was hurt and that county leaders decided to act with restraint towards the demonstrators. "Collectively, we decided that restraint and public safety would be our priority. As the sheriff, I am not blind to the offensive conduct of some demonstrators nor will I ignore their criminal conduct. With the help of video captured at the scene, my investigators are working to identify those responsible for the removal and vandalism of the statue," he said.

The monument of a Confederate soldier holding a rifle was erected in 1924 and inscribed on it are the words, "In memory of the boys who wore the gray."

Later Monday, Gov. Roy Cooper took to Twitter saying, "the racism and deadly violence in Charlottesville is unacceptable, but there is a better way to remove these monuments."

The crowd that pulled down the statue was initially small, but steadily grew to more than 100 people. As the crowd became more animated, several protesters approached the monument, climbing it and attaching a yellow nylon rope around it. The protesters then pulled until the soldier came crashing to the ground.

Seconds after it fell, protesters began kicking the crumpled bronze monument. "I was a little bit shocked people could come here and come together like that," said Isaiah Wallace.

Wallace said he watched as others toppled the statue. He hopes other Confederate symbols elsewhere will follow. "I feel like this is going to send shock waves through the country and hopefully they can bring down other racist symbols," he said.

The Durham protest was in response to a white nationalist rally held in Charlottesville, Virginia, during the weekend. "I'm not surprised seeing what's gone on in this country," Durham Mayor Bill Bell said Monday night.

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Because the statue was on county property, Bell would not comment on any possible charges against the protesters for the vandalism.

Shortly after 9:30 p.m., Durham Police issued a response to the protests saying, "The DPD is aware that a Confederate monument was toppled at the old Durham County courthouse. Because this incident occurred on county property, where county law enforcement officials were staffed, no arrests were made by DPD officers."

Police said the Durham County Sheriff's Office is the agency that has jurisdiction over all county buildings and landmarks. "When monitoring such incidents, the sheriff's office is the decision-making agency regarding law enforcement response on matters concerning county property," DPD explained.

Shortly before 12:30 a.m. Tuesday, Durham County issued a statement that didn't specifically mention Monday's statue incident: "Our elected officials and senior staff understand the unrest in our nation and community, particularly following the senseless acts that took place in Charlottesville, VA. We share the sentiments of many communities around the nation that admonish hate and acts of violence as we believe civility is necessary in our every action and response. Governmental agencies dedicated to public safety will continue to work collectively to ensure Durham remains a community of excellence where all of our residents can live peacefully, grow and thrive."

Protesters then moved on to walk down to Roxboro Street at Main Street, where they blocked the intersection.

The protesters later marched to the site of the new Durham Police headquarters, which is under construction.

Durham Police remained close by but kept their distance from the protesters.

Click here for more stories about the Charlotessville demonstrations.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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