It is a simple statement so evocative that Hollywood has turned to it more than once for a movie ending that brims with solidarity and social meaning. Spike Lee gave the final moments of his 1992 “Malcolm X” biopic over to a montage of men, women and children saying the words, “I am Malcolm X.” The auteurs of the 2017 Netflix documentary “I Am Jane Doe” adopted the same concept for the title of the film exploring the role of online advertising in the sexual exploitation of girls.
In Durham, N.C. Thursday, a group of demonstrators channeled that concept — a collective representing one — to give that symbolic act timely, real-world meaning.
Scores of people lined up in front of the sheriff’s office Thursday to “confess” to vandalizing a Confederate statue that protesters pulled down from its pedestal earlier this week, a demonstration meant to raise concerns about the charges leveled against the alleged perpetrators.
Want to make sure you all saw this photo. It’s the line of people in Durham waiting to turn themselves in for toppling the Confed statue. pic.twitter.com/2SNtWuoR64
— Celeste Headlee (@CelesteHeadlee) August 17, 2017
An estimated 200 to 300 people showed up at the sheriff’s office to collectively accept responsibility for the damaged monument, said Courtney Sebring, the Durham County co-chair of the Black Youth 100 Project. Durham County Sheriff Michael Andrews and people live tweeting from the scene estimated the gathering attracted more than 100 participants.
Several dozen “anti-fascist” and community groups had rallied around the Confederate soldier statue on Monday as it was pulled from its pedestal outside the old Durham County Courthouse and left in a mangled heap. It had stood atop an engraved pedestal that read, “In memory of ‘the boys who wore the gray.’ ” It was erected in 1924 and stood 15 feet tall, according to a memorial database. On one side of the granite pedestal is an image of a Confederate flag.
Sheriff’s deputies announced early Tuesday that video officials had taken during the protest would be used to identify and arrest people directly involved in pulling the statue from its pedestal. Later that morning, sheriff’s deputies arrested Takiyah Thompson, 22, and charged her with a collection of felony and misdemeanor charges, including disorderly conduct, damage to real property, participation in a riot with property damage in excess of $1,500 and inciting others to riot where there is property damage in excess of $1,500.
In video of the scene, Thompson can be seen climbing a silver ladder and affixing a yellow strap to the head and neck of the Confederate figure, which was then pulled to the ground.
By Wednesday, three additional activists who had been identified and charged with similar crimes turned themselves in to sheriff’s deputies: Dante Emmanuel Strobino, 35; Ngoc Loan Tran, 24; Peter Gull Gilbert, 39.
Walking in to sheriffs office to collectively turn ourselves to say: targeting racial justice organizers? arrest me too! pic.twitter.com/YtTTDEQv20
— ben carroll (@bncrrll) August 17, 2017
The array of felony charges outraged many people around the city, Sebring said. The Black Youth 100 Project was one of several involved in Monday’s protest and handling communications for those involved, she said.
“Folks are facing charges like felony incitement to a riot,” Sebring said. “A riot requires force and people to have been forced to participate, unable to move due to a violent situation — and every single person there wanted that monument down. They, together, no longer wanted white supremacy to be towering over downtown Durham.”
The sheriff’s department said it did not arrest anyone for participating in the Thursday demonstration at the sheriff’s office. However, three individuals were arrested at the demonstration in connection with the removal of the Confederate monument: Aaron Alexander Caldwell, 24; Raul Mauro Arce Jimenez, 26; and Elena Everett, 30. Taylor Alexander Jun Cook, 24, turned himself in later in the day.
All eight people arrested in connection with the monument removal have been released from custody.
Also in Durham on Thursday, Duke University reported that a Robert E. Lee statue in the portal of the campus chapel entrance was damaged, according to the Herald-Sun. Parts of the statue’s face had been chipped off. It is one of 10 which ring the chapel’s entrance and were included when the chapel was first built.