DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina’s governor said Tuesday that he wants to bring down Confederate monuments around the state, thrusting himself into a debate stoked by violence in Virginia and the toppling of a statue in his own state.
Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s call to remove the monuments from public property came as a sheriff began arresting people responsible for tearing down a nearly century-old Confederate statue in Durham on Monday night.
North Carolina is among three states with the most Confederate monuments, but the Republican-controlled General Assembly passed a law in 2015 preventing their removal without legislative approval. Cooper is likely to face an uphill battle against legislative leaders, who hold veto-proof majorities.
“We cannot continue to glorify a war against the United States of America fought in the defense of slavery,” Cooper said in a statement. “These monuments should come down.”
Around the time of Cooper’s announcement, deputies were arresting the woman who climbed the statue in Durham and attached the rope that was used to tear it down.
During a news conference Tuesday held by protest organizers, Takiyah Thompson identified herself as the woman who climbed the statue. She said her actions were a justified response to white supremacists.
“The statue had to go, and it’s linked to white supremacy that we see today,” said the 22-year-old college student.
After the news conference, sheriff’s deputies arrived and took her away in handcuffs. The sheriff’s office said she’s charged with two felonies related to inciting and participating in a riot that damaged property, along with two misdemeanors. Investigators said late Tuesday that they expect to make other arrests.
The 2015 law prohibits the removal of Confederate monuments without General Assembly approval. The governor said legislators need to repeal the law. Spokespeople for GOP House and Senate leaders didn’t immediately respond to emails seeking comment.
Cooper also directed state officials to study the cost and logistics of removing Confederate monuments from state property and moving them to historical sites or museums. There are three on the old Capitol grounds in Raleigh and one at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the state Department of Natural and Cultural Resources said.
The governor said he was moved to act by the violence at the Charlottesville, Virginia, rally, as well as the protest in Durham that toppled the statue. The Virginia rally was organized by people who disagree with efforts to remove a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee from a downtown park.
North Carolina is one of only three states — along with Virginia and Georgia — that have 90 or more Confederate monuments, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. A state tally shows at least 120 Civil War monuments around North Carolina, with the vast majority dedicated to the Confederacy. Around 50 are located at contemporary or historic courthouses.
Durham’s Confederate Soldiers Monument, dedicated in 1924, stood in front of an old courthouse building that serves as local government offices.
The statue came down Monday night after Thompson climbed a ladder and attached the rope. Demonstrators on the ground then used the rope to pull the bronze Confederate soldier from its pedestal as a crowd cheered. After it fell, some began kicking the statue, while others took photos standing or sitting on it. Organizers said the protest was in response to the Charlottesville violence.
Law enforcement officers took video throughout the protest but didn’t intervene. Durham County Sheriff Mike Andrews said he was aware of the potential for vandalism, but used restraint because of the risk of injuries if deputies moved in.
“Had I ordered my deputies to engage a hostile crowd, there would have been serious injuries,” Andrews said. “Statues can be replaced. Lives cannot.”
Still, he said he would pursue felony charges against the protesters responsible for bringing the statue down: “Let me be clear. No one is getting away with what happened yesterday.”
Some people who passed by the empty pedestal on Tuesday expressed mixed feelings about the statue and its fate.
“I’ve walked by this statue several times in the last few weeks. And I’ve wondered, if it is appropriate,” said Emily Yeatts, an attorney in Durham. “If there IS a way to remember and honor, as it says, ‘The boys who wore the gray,’ without also lending some legitimacy to the cause for which they fought. This statue has struck me as out of place in Durham, for some time. And while I was surprised to see the news footage last night, it seemed right.”
Robertson reported from Raleigh. Associated Press National writer Allen G. Breed also contributed to this report.