Sarah Krueger and Candace Sweat, WRAL-TV, February 19, 2018
Defense attorneys for the group of people charged with pulling down a Durham Confederate monument tried to poke holes in the state’s case against them Monday, arguing that the statue toppled on Aug. 14 was a symbol of white supremacy and an affront to the Constitutional right to equal protection under the law.
Prosecutors stuck to the letter in their claim that eight remaining defendants are guilty of defacing a public building or monument, conspiracy to deface a public building or monument and injury to real property. The charges are misdemeanors.
District Court Judge Frederick S. Battaglia, Jr. dismissed charges against two of the defendants — Dante Emmanuel Strobino, 35, and Peter Hull Gilbert, 39 — saying prosecutors had not proven that they were among those involved in knocking the statue over.
Outside the courtroom, Strobino did not explicitly admit his involvement, but he voiced support for those seeking to remove Confederate statues nationwide.
“We’re going to keep building our movement to fight white supremacy and to take all the statues down,” he said.
Scott Holmes, in defending Jimenez, called the statue itself a crime.
“This is not about a public monument,” Holmes said, “but about government hate speech. It was a crime to erect it and a crime to have it stand there.”
“The statue, for these folks, represented racial terrorist and intimidation, you know, like going every day to work, to the county courthouse to register to vote and seeing a symbol of the Confederacy,” said activist Eva Panjwani.
“I’m here for my daughter and her comrades, to get all the charges dropped or dismissed,” Mikisa Thompson said.
The march continued for several blocks, arriving at the courthouse just as Jimenez exited as a free man.
“This is a reminder that tearing down a monument for white supremacy is not a crime,” he said.
In a statement, Sheriff Mike Andrews justified the charges, saying, “While I appreciate the strong emotions surrounding this issue, the Sheriff’s Office has done its job. We applied the law for the removal and damage of public property just as we would in any other case. It’s up to the court system to decide what happens next.”
Holmes praised the defendants and compared their actions to those of the young, black men who sat at an all-white lunch counter to spur desegregation.
“It was a public nuisance, it was a threat to public safety,” he said of the Confederate statue. “They have not damaged anything. They have improved our city.”
Before finding Jimenez not guilty, Battaglia said, “You can’t pick and choose which is to stay and which is to not stay.
“Where does one draw the line? … The issue in this case is whether or not this defendant is guilty of this charge.”
In presenting evidence against Stobino, Gilbert and Jimenez, the prosecution relied heavily on video that captured the chants, crowds and actions of that day.
Video that Stacy Murphy recorded on her cellphone and posted to Facebook was eventually published by The Washington Post in reporting on the event.
Holmes put on no defense for Jimenez, relying instead on his argument against the statue itself.
Five still face trial
Takiyah Fatima Thompson, who climbed the statue, was the first to be arrested.