A judge dismissed charges Friday against two N.C. State University students who put white hoods on a Confederate statue in April.
Enzo Niebuhr and Jody Anderson were charged with disorderly conduct by abusive language and defacing a public building or statue, warrants show. The dismissal of their charges was first reported by WRAL.
Warrants show Niebuhr and Anderson climbed on the North Carolina Women of the Confederacy statue and placed “white KKK style hoods” on the monument’s figures of a woman and a young boy.
Capitol police asked them to get down, and they complied.
As they were handcuffed and taken to a police car, the warrants said, they chanted “(Expletive) these racist statues! (Expletive) the confederacy! Racist statues have to go!”
The 7-foot tall bronze statue was installed in 1914 on the south side of Capitol Square, according to the American Legion.
“Activists allegedly climbed the monument and placed Klan hoods over its two heads to properly contextualize the statue’s role in perpetuating white supremacy and reinforcing both Jim Crow era and modern racist violence and oppression,” Smash Racism Raleigh said in a statement.
Climbing the monuments around the Capitol is not a crime, nor are there any signs that prohibit people from climbing on them, according to court testimony Friday.
The trial turned into a First Amendment debate as the two sides argued over whether the students’ chants qualified as “disorderly conduct.”
Capitol police officer Dustin Dobson said he believed that loudly yelling the “F word” on the Capitol grounds, especially as nearby churchgoers attended Easter services, was offensive.
“The nature of what they were protesting could have offended anybody,” he testified. “You don’t know what those churchgoers had in their family line. They could have had Confederate soldiers. Could’ve offended them. They could have lost somebody in the confederate war.”
“It was based on the totality of circumstances. Church, family, little children being around,” he said about the charges.
Dobson was also upset about the white masks on the monument.
“To me, it’s a hate crime,” he said.
The students’ defense attorney, Scott Holmes, argued that the charges of disorderly conduct by abusive language would require “a clear and present danger of violence.”
“The F-word in the court is even more protected in a park than it is in the courthouse,” he said.
Holmes also argued that if putting a medal, ribbon or wreath on the metal figures would not qualify as defacing a public statue, then neither should putting KKK hoods on them.
District Judge William Lawton dismissed the charges against Niebuhr and Anderson.
Holmes said in a statement to The News & Observer after the trial, “In their protest, my clients damaged no property and threatened no violence, so it is disturbing that the Capitol police and Wake County DA’s office would seek to violate their First Amendment rights in order to defend the symbols of white supremacy.”