State Politics

‘Pull down the statutes, not just the statues.’ NC NAACP chief weighs in on Confederate monuments

Pulling the agenda of white nationalists down is more important than pulling down Confederate statues, according to the president of the NC NAACP, the Rev. William Barber.

“If you just pull down the statue but you do not pull down the statutes, the laws that support them, we still have issues,” Barber said.

Barber spoke Saturday to a gathering of local chapter leaders and the executive committee of the state NAACP along with members of the Forward Together Moral Movement at Peace Missionary Baptist Church in Durham.

The riot in Charlottesville, Virginia, Aug. 12 and protests in Durham this week provided Barber with the backdrop to call upon state and national political leaders to do more than speak out against actions of hate groups in the United States.

“You can’t just renounce what happened in Charlottesville,” Barber said. “You’ve got to denounce what happened before Charlottesville that emboldened the people to go to Charlottesville.”

Barber admitted that politicians were quick to say the events in Charlottsville were horrible but the root of the racism goes much deeper. Solving that problem in America is going to be a long struggle, Barber said. It will take more than removing offensive symbols. Laws will have to be changed.

The Confederate flag in South Carolina didn’t come down for good until nine people were killed at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston on June 17, 2015. Ten days after the tragedy, Bree Newsome, a Durham native, pulled the Confederate flag down from its pole on the South Carolina Capitol grounds and was arrested. It took another 13 days before the South Carolina legislature passed a law allowing the flag to be taken down permanently — more than three weeks after the shooting.

There were no deaths in Durham that prompted Takiyah Thompson and seven others to allegedly help topple the Confederate statue outside the Old Durham County Courthouse downtown Monday. But the monument was hauled down during an event expressing solidarity with Charlottesville and the death of Heather Heyer, who was stuck and killed by a car driven by a man attending the white nationalist rally there.

Barber said these responses were part of an ongoing struggle but didn’t fully address the systemic nature of racism he sees, especially in some of our laws.

“We can’t make the mistake that was made in South Carolina when the flag came down,” Barber said. “But it only came down after nine lives were destroyed. It should have come down years before and never been up. People said the leadership in South Carolina did something brave. That was not brave. It came down after nine lives were murdered.”

Barber said gerrymandered legislative and congressional districts have allowed what he called “unjust laws” to be passed. They’ve played into the white nationalist agenda, including restrictions on voting rights and attacks on healthcare. He called for barriers to voting to be reduced and for wider access to health care. Fighting back at the ballot box is something that must be done, he said.

“If you’re going to march and fight for the statues to come down, let’s march to the voting booths,” Barber said.

Most of Barber’s comments were directed at Republicans, including President Donald Trump, Tar Heel U.S. Sens. Thom Tillis and Richard Burr and state Sen. Phil Berger, who leads the N.C. Senate. He also was critical of what he called complicit Democrats.

“Today’s Democrats are not totally absolved,” Barber said. “Many Democrats refuse to name and confront policy-driven racism. They’ll talk about it on the extremes but they won’t use the term racism. Instead, they want to frame every issue in economic terms. They say they’re trying to simply reach the middle class, the white working class, which is in and of itself racist.

“We just can’t talk about racism when Charlottesville happens. If that’s the only time we talk about systemic racism, we’re not going to deal with this issue. All parties must face the political agenda of white nationalism and denounce it line by line.”

Joe Johnson: 919-419-6889, @JEJ_HSNews