Protesters in Durham who pulled down a statue of a Confederate soldier replaced one symbol of oppression with another. The statue outside the old courthouse may offend some as honoring those who defended slavery. But the symbolism of tossing a rope around the statue’s neck and pulling it down evokes the blind anger of mobs from the very past the protesters want to deny.
There are sound reasons to seek the removal of Confederate symbols, but violence and vandalism is not the way. Unfortunately, the message of peaceful protesters against bigotry is increasingly being turned inside-out by violent extremist groups. They are not “on the left.” They are simply against and eager to smash with no vision of what to build. Government leaders should be forceful in condemning these tactics.
Gov. Roy Cooper was quick to do so, tweeting that “the racism and deadly violence in Charlottesville is unacceptable but there is a better way to remove these monuments.” Durham County’s government did the same, saying in a statement: “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.”
The violence in Charlottesville brought to national attention the anger and anxiety about race and change in America. President Trump was wrong to blame it on “many sides.” The violence was clearly provoked by white nationalists and one drove a car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one young woman and injuring 19.
But the actions that followed in Durham were not the right response. Durham’s law enforcement officers did well to keep the situation from escalating. Political leaders must do the same.