Rounding out the city’s first Juneteenth, about three hundred people gathered in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina this Friday evening, converging around a large stone monument in the square surrounding the State Capitol building. By 9 pm, one of the monument’s bronze statues, which depict armed Confederate soldiers from the state’s Civil War period, had been strung up from a lamp post, while the growing crowd took turns spitting on the other one, eventually dragging it through the city’s streets.
Juneteenth celebrates the day of June 19, 1865, when a general from the Union Army arrived in Texas to inform the population that the Confederacy had been defeated and that those who had been enslaved were now free. Today was the first time there has been a popular recognition of the holiday across the country, although it has yet to be made an official holiday.
Raleigh Police were observing the protestors as they began to climb the monument, spray painting “Take it down” and “BLM” near its inscription, which reads “To Our Confederate Dead”. The police first stepped in when orange ropes were attached to the monument’s statues, leading to a heated face-to-face exchange between organizers and officers. In 2015, the State of North Carolina enacted a law to specifically protect “historic” and “patriotic” artworks on public grounds, when civil rights groups were demanding that monuments dedicated to the Confederacy be removed.
But on this night, officers of the law retreated, and by the time the statues were strung up and dragged through the streets, the police were no longer a visible presence. At no point in the evening was riot gear or tear gas employed, in contrast to what transpired during other confrontations over the last few weeks.
Earlier in the day, Raleigh Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown held a press conference to address accusations that the force she commands had discriminated on racial and sexual orientation grounds against two protestors the day before. Deck-Brown said she had hired an out-of-state investigative team to look into the matter while also claiming that “no one can see someone’s sexual orientation”. Still, she concluded, “I am concerned by the actions of some of our officers.”
The two protestors were both young LGBTQI people of color, one of whom was in fact a minor. White Americans have long judged African American children harshly, subjecting them to arrest, incarceration, and “being tried as an adult” at ages when special consideration should be offered, if they are even guilty of anything at all. The tragedies of 17 year old Trayvon Martin in 2012 and 12 year old Tamir Rice in 2014 recall the horrific murder of 14 year old Emmet Till in 1995; their killers were either acquitted or never charged.
A drenching rain eventually dampened tonight’s demonstration. One statue remains dangling from its lamp post. The other was dragged to the front of the county courthouse and unceremoniously abandoned on its steps. A Raleigh Police SUV attempting to approach was stopped by protestors on foot, who surrounded the vehicle, forcing its driver to shift into reverse and slowly roll back up the street.