Durham Confederate statue toppling cases start with dismissals

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Protesters marched in Durham on Monday, demanding all charges be dropped.

Problems identifying protesters on video hindered prosecutors Monday as they sought to hold demonstrators responsible for toppling a Confederate statue in Durham last summer.

Eight people arrived in court Monday morning, but the prosecution so far has zero wins.

Two cases were dismissed, including the one for Peter Gilbert.

"The community of Durham believes that fighting white supremacy is not a crime," Gilbert said. "The community was united in taking that down. It wasn't one or two or five or eight of us that took it down. It was a community."

Protesters were holding back traffic and shutting down streets during the evening rush. They marched through downtown Durham urging the district attorney to drop cases.

Raul Jimenez was found not guilty and was energized by the support greeting him on the streets.

"It shows that people are not going to tolerate any more symbols of white supremacy, of oppression, of racism, of hate in this city," Jimenez declared.

Trials for five others - Takiyah Thompson, Elena Everett, Jessica Jude, Qasima Wideman and Joseph Karlik - are to be held at a later date.

Prosecutors showed videos of protesters bringing out a ladder, attaching a rope and yanking down the statue in front of a Durham County government building in August 2017. But defense attorneys successfully argued through a series of objections that investigators had failed to meet stringent standards to prove the first two defendants were the people seen on the video.

In dropping charges against Gilbert, Durham County District Court Judge Fred Battaglia noted "the court must dismiss this case now ... because the identification has not been made." He cited a similar reason for dropping the case against the first defendant of the day, Dante Strobino.

The toppling of the statue helped thrust North Carolina into a national debate on Confederate monuments in the aftermath of white supremacist protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, which left one counterdemonstrator dead last August. The Virginia demonstrations were triggered by a dispute over another Confederate monument.

RELATED: Durham protesters pull down Confederate statue outside courthouse

While statues elsewhere have been vandalized, the Durham case drew widespread attention because protesters succeeded in bringing it down. North Carolina is among a handful of Southern states with the most Confederate monuments. It also has a law preventing local officials from removing the statues.

Some of the Durham protesters have cited the Virginia violence as the reason they gathered Aug. 14 for the demonstration that led to the statue's toppling. They say removing Confederate monuments is part of a larger fight against racism - an idea echoed by defense attorney Scott Holmes on Monday.

Holmes told the judge that the nearly century-old statue benefited "those who would celebrate the traitorous, violent defense of human enslavement."

However, some Southerners argue that the memorials honor fallen ancestors and represent history, not racism.

And, prosecutors argued, the defendants broke the law by destroying the county's property.

"This was not a spontaneous event, but a well-orchestrated plan of organized destruction," said prosecutor Ameshia Cooper.

The crumpled statue was taken to a warehouse shortly after the demonstration, and its pedestal has remained empty. Local leaders are convening a panel to study what to do with it and other Confederate memorials in the area.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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trialconfederate monumentconfederacystatue desecrationprotestDurhamDurham County
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