US anti-hate demonstrators topple Confederate statue

Protesters say racist symbols must be taken down, forcibly if necessary, as they are protected by US law.

Protesters in the US state of North Carolina toppled a nearly century-old statue of a Confederate soldier at a rally against racism as the backlash against a deadly white nationalist gathering last weekend continued.

Activists in Durham brought a ladder up to the statue on Monday and used a rope to pull down the Confederate Soldiers Monument that was dedicated in 1924. A diverse crowd of dozens cheered as the statue of a soldier holding a rifle fell to the ground in front of an old courthouse building that now houses local government offices.

Seconds after the monument 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, who is black.

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Wallace said he watched as others toppled the statue, adding he hopes other Confederate symbols elsewhere will follow.

“I feel like this is going to send shockwaves 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, over the weekend. One woman was killed on Saturday after a white nationalist drove his car into a group of peaceful counter-protesters.

Although the violence in Virginia has prompted fresh talk by government officials about bringing down symbols of the Confederacy around the southern United States, North Carolina has a law protecting them. The 2015 law prevents removing such monuments on public property without permission from state officials.

In response to the statue in Durham being torn down, Democratic North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper tweeted: “The racism and deadly violence in Charlottesville is unacceptable, but there is a better way to remove these monuments.”

Robin Williamson works downtown and arrived in the area about an hour after the statue came down. Williamson, who is black, said he could sympathise with people who are upset with the state of racial discourse in the country.

“People feel that with Donald Trump as leader, racists can be vocal,” he said.

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He said while Confederate monuments have been defaced in other cities, it was surprising to see an entire statue brought down by protesters.

“This is a little bit more intense because they took the whole statue down,” he said.

Bree Newsome, a civil rights activist who was arrested for pulling down a Confederate flag in South Carolina in 2015, said the law is standing in the way of removing symbols of racism. She faced five years in prison and a $3,000 fine, but the charges were later dropped. 

There are an estimated 700 such symbols across 31 US states. 

“Public opinion is really turning against Confederate monuments in public spaces,” Newsome told Al Jazeera. “The practice of civil disobedience … there’s a role for that in a vibrant democracy because there are times when the law itself is unjust. In order to achieve justice, we have to challenge these laws.” 

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Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies