They weren’t alone.
Joining them outside the Durham County courthouse were hundreds of other protesters, many of whom attempted to symbolically turn themselves in for vandalizing the Confederate statue as well.
“All of us are willing to share the cost of our freedom,” Serena Sebring, one of the protest’s organizers, told reporters. “All of us are here, and we are willing to take whatever responsibility, whatever consequences come along with the removal of that statue.”
Jillian Johnson, a member of Durham’s city council who attended Thursday’s demonstration, told HuffPost around 200 people gathered in total, with about 50 attempting to turn themselves in.
Those seeking arrest did so both in solidarity, she said, and in some cases because they were actually present Monday when the statue of the armed soldier in Confederate uniform came toppling down.
“There were far more people there when the statue came down than have been charged,” Johnson explained via Twitter message. “They’re targeting specific people.”
Deputies declined to arrest any of the volunteers, however, and blocked the crowd from entering the jail.
Officers also prevented members of the public from entering the courtroom, though it’s unclear why. Johnson said she was told it was a fire safety issue. Another protester, Ruby Sinreich, said she was told officials wanted to make sure there was enough space for court cases later in the day.
The Durham County sheriff’s office told HuffPost the fire marshal deemed the crowd a fire hazard due to its size and the capacity of the courtroom, and so protesters weren’t allowed in.
Sinreich said she joined Thursday’s demonstration to support those who were arrested, and to show politicians that plenty of their constituents want these monuments removed.
“It was important to be there to show that there is broad public support in Durham for taking the monument down,” she explained in an online message. “And since the NC General Assembly won’t allow our elected officials to do it legally, we are forced to commit civil disobedience.”
“I think it’s important for white people to see people like them (e.g.: me) challenging white supremacy,” she added. “But we need to not be the center of the story.”
In addition to those who turned themselves in Thursday, four others ― Peter Gilbert, Dante Strobino, Takiyah Thompson and Ngoc Tran ― have also been arrested. Each of them has been charged with two misdemeanors and two felonies, to the shock of many demonstrators.
Prosecutors claim Monday’s protest was in fact a riot, and say the statue was worth more than $1,500, thus justifying felony charges.
“I am not blind to the offensive conduct of some demonstrators nor will I ignore their criminal conduct,” Durham County Sheriff Mike Andrews said Tuesday, pledging to “find the people responsible.”
Johnson, for her part, said she has no problem with Confederate monuments being removed. Most such monuments, she noted, were erected several decades after the Civil War during the implementation of Jim Crow laws, and again during the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.
“The history of these monuments, specifically when and why they were created, tells us clearly that they weren’t intended to commemorate the history of the Confederacy,” she said, “but rather to send a message of white supremacy and intimidation to black people during Jim Crow. There is no way to keep these statues in public spaces without continuing to send that message.”
Johnson said she thinks the racist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend marked a “watershed moment” ― one that’s finally revealing white supremacist groups for what they are.
“People are starting to realize that white supremacist/anti-Semitic groups are inherently violent and that their marches and rallies are not protected free speech but intentional acts of racist intimidation,” she said.
“We’re dealing with a political moment where violent white supremacist ideology has been mainstreamed by our president and his followers, and that creates an extremely dangerous situation for people in this country.”