DURHAM, N.C. ― Rumors of a white supremacist rally shut down parts of downtown Durham, North Carolina, on Friday, but most of the people to show up were counterprotesters.
Police blocked off the courthouse in advance of the protests, which Durham officials said they expected around noon on Friday. Several county offices closed early in advance of the rally, as did some retailers, according to INDY Week.
Durham County Sheriff Mike Andrews issued a statement thanking the community “for a peaceful demonstration,” and adding:
Throughout the day, we have received numerous reports of potential counter protests in the Durham community. The Sheriff’s Office has been gathering and reviewing information related to potential counter protests throughout the week. We have taken steps to ensure public safety. At this time, law enforcement continues to monitor the area and has not confirmed reports of activity. We are urging residents to avoid joining the crowd in the downtown area as law enforcement continues to monitor the situation. Residents are encouraged to rely on verified information.
The city of Durham noted it issued no event permits for any group on Friday, seeking to temper the rumors of what some believed could be a large rally.
LA Chesson brought an easel and canvas to the rally, which he proceeded to set up by the courthouse and paint a large heart.
“Everybody has their purpose,” he told HuffPost. “Some want to hate, some want to spread love. I’m a painter, so I paint.”
While the rumored crowd of white supremacists did not appear at the noon rally, a few individuals did draw the ire of the counterprotesters early on.
In one such confrontation, the crowd yelled “F**k you cowards” at two men, though it’s not clear what prompted the clash.
At one point, counterprotesters gathered to burn a Confederate flag outside the courthouse, where earlier this week protesters pulled down a Confederate statue in response to violence in Charlottesville:
Dave DeWitt, a reporter for North Carolina Public Radio, described the scene as volatile and primed for conflict should the KKK or other white supremacist groups arrive.
As the counterprotest wore on, part of the crowd held a dance-off, while chants of “Durham resists hate” rang out. Many cheered for those arrested for tearing down a Confederate statue in the city earlier this week.
Manju Rajendran, a Durham resident with the Anti Oppression Resource and Training Alliance, wrapped up the event with a crowd chant: “We dedicate this space today to the ones to come. We promise to fight for a Durham free from hate. We will end white supremacy. We will put our bodies on the line.”
The group planned to meet up at a local food co-op to discuss their next steps.
The Durham County Sheriff’s Office is also encouraging residents to be skeptical of additional protests rumored for later today: