Felony charges will be dropped against eight protesters accused of dismantling a Confederate statue in North Carolina last summer, Durham District Attorney Roger Echols said Thursday.
The prosecution has decided against pursuing felony rioting charges against the defendants and will drop them in lieu of lesser counts, the district attorney told reporters.
“I only plan to try them on the misdemeanors,” Mr. Echols told The Associated Press. He declined to comment further, AP reported.
The eight defendants appeared before a judge Thursday and scheduled to face trial starting Feb. 19, the report said.
The case in Durham revolves around a monument of an anonymous Confederate soldier that had stood in front of the old county courthouse for nearly a century prior to being topped Aug. 14, two days after a demonstration surrounding a different statue in Virginia turned deadly and rekindled calls for their removal across the country.
Video footage of the Durham incident shows protesters toppled the monument by affixing a rope to the soldier’s neck and then dragging the statue to the ground before stomping and spitting on it.
Prosecutors initially charged 12 people in connection with toppling the monument, but three of the accused were cleared in November, and a fourth entered a deferred prosecution agreement the following month.
Absent felony charges, the eight remaining defendants will only face misdemeanor counts of defacing a public building or monument, conspiracy to deface a public building or monument and injury to real property, Durham’s WRAL reported.
“This is an incredible victory that is a testament to the will of the people to struggle for freedom and liberation, the same will we saw expressed in Durham on August 14,” co-defendant Takiyah Thompson said in a statement.
“Our hope is also that the trial and keeping this issue in the public view will help to ignite more people to feel empowered to fight racism and white supremacy in all its forms,” added co-defendant Qasima Widema.
Efforts aimed at dismantling Confederate statues intensified last summer following the Aug. 12 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va. The event had been billed as a protest in response to the city’s decision to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, but it quickly turned violent when participants including white nationalists and neo-Nazis began brawling with counterprotesters. Three people ultimately died in connection with the chaos, including two state troopers and a counterprotester, Heather Heyer, according to police.
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