A Confederate statue brought down by activists on Main Street last week should stay down, county leaders say.
“I will not support replacing it,” said Wendy Jacobs, chairwoman for the county commissioners. “As far as I know, there are no (board) members who support replacing that memorial, knowing the history of it and the pain and suffering” it has caused in the community.
At least two commissioners, Heidi Carter and James Hill, have said they don’t support felony charges against those responsible.
“I definitely think felony is too extreme,” Carter said, “and doesn’t even really fit what happened based on what I think of as a riot.”
The county commissioners face at least two questions:
▪ What to do with the crumpled bronze statue that is sitting in storage and the marble pedestal that remains on county property.
Jacobs and Carter said they don’t support replacing it. Hill, who couldn’t be reached for comment, wrote on Facebook that all Confederate monuments should be moved to museums. Ellen Reckhow couldn’t be reached for comment. Brenda Howerton said she wants to await information from the county attorney.
▪ What value they place on the monument.
District Attorney Roger Echols has asked County Manager Wendell Davis to consult with the commissioners and give him a financial value for the monument, Echols said in a statement. The value could determine whether to press felony charges.
Hill wrote in a Facebook post that the charges should be limited to misdemeanors.
“Unfortunately the N.C. General Assembly passed a law in 2015 that took away Durham’s county commissioners’ ability to make any decision about the future of these monuments, and in that political climate without local recourse the protesters may have likened their actions of toppling a statue to the hurling of tea into Boston Harbor,” Hill wrote.
Commissioners have asked County Attorney Lowell Siler to explain how the 2015 state law that limits the removal Confederate statues affects the county’s next steps, Jacobs said.
“I think clearly there is a lot of uncertainty about the statue looking at the situation UNC (Chapel Hill) is in,” Jacobs said.
Without local recourse the protesters may have likened their actions of toppling a statue to the hurling of tea into Boston Harbor.
James Hill, Durham County commissioner
Commissioners plan to hear from Siler at their 7 p.m. meeting Monday, Jacobs said. Legal advice will likely be given during a closed session, Siler said.
Amanda Martin, general counsel for the N.C. Press Association, said any public body can go into a closed session to get general legal advice, but its discussion on related action needs to take place in an open session.
Commissioners have received thousands of emails and calls about the statue. Once commissioners understand their legal options, they plan to include community input in their next steps Jacobs said.
State law prevents removing, relocating or altering monuments, memorials, plaques and other markers that are on public property without the permission of N.C. Historical Commission.
In Facebook posts outlining their individual responses to the toppling of the statue, all five commissioners said they supported or commended Sheriff Mike Andrews’ and deputies’ restraint on Aug. 14, as an activist climbed a ladder, slipped a strap around the Confederate monument and others pulled it down.
Civil disobedience typically comes with consequences, a majority of them also wrote.
Durham City Councilman Charlie Reece – a former state prosecutor – and others have questioned whether it was appropriate for the Sheriff’s Office to levy felony charges against the eight people charged in the case.
They are charged with two counts of participating in a riot with property damage in excess of $1,500. Reece questioned whether the statue was worth more than $1,500. Scott Holmes, an attorney representing those charged, said the Aug. 14 demonstration wasn’t a riot.
Carter said in an interview that she thinks the statue has little value.
“Whatever the cost of the statue is, we have to weigh that against both benefits and harms (to the community) to determine what the value is,” Carter said. “I would say the harm far outweighs the benefits.”
Ultimately, Echols will determine the charges.
Last week, he said he is waiting to receive the full report from the Sheriff’s Office. He said he won’t prosecute people who weren’t directly involved.
“As the district attorney for Durham, it is my job to seek a just resolution in this matter,” Echols said. A just resolution includes an analysis of property damage and “balancing accountability for the actual destruction of property in violation of the law with the climate in which these actions were undertaken.”
The climate includes the pain of recent events in Charlottesville and the consideration that Durham citizens don’t have proper recourse for asking local government to relocate or move the monument, Echols said.
“Justice also requires that I be aware that asking people to be patient and to let various government institutions address injustice is sometimes asking more than those who have been historically ignored, marginalized or harmed by a system can bear,” he said.