We recently discussed the decision of Durham District Attorney Roger Echols to drop felony charges against protesters who destroyed a civil war monument in a premeditated and videotaped crime. The popularity of the crime was obvious as voters rallied around the accused — support that some have alleged pressured Echols to reduce the charges to mere misdemeanors. That reduction however was still criticized by the defendants and their supporters. Now, after an unfavorable ruling by a court, Echols has dropped all charges against defendants who not just committed criminal acts on camera but proudly proclaimed their guilt. It is hard not to view the outcome as an example of popular crimes enjoying a level of immunity.
As discussed earlier, the public, premeditated act was was carried out in front of news cameras in broad daylight. Moreover, the arrested individuals seemed proud of the crime and various advocates called for all charges to be dropped against Takiyah Thompson, 22, Dante Strobino, 35, Ngoc Loan Tran, 24, and Peter Gilbert, 39. Indeed, faculty declared Thompson a hero for her vandalism and Political Science Professor Allan Cooper of North Carolina Central University called for Thompson to be given a scholarship.
Thompson was still irate that even a minor misdemeanor would be charged since she has the public on her side and that her actions were justified. Indeed, she indicated that the dropping of the felony charges came only after Echols felt the pressure of public opinion: “Since these outrageous charges were filed against us, thousands upon thousands of people from across the country have called the DA and other city officials demanding the charges be dropped.”
A judge recently tossed charges against two suspects and found a third defendant not guilty. That seemed to open the door for Echols to take the popular step of dropping any and all charges. So, a mob can be organized and then destroy public art or memorials on videotape and not be prosecuted for even a misdemeanor in Durham . . . so long as the crime is popular. Would the same result occur if white supremacists torn down a Martin Luther King statue? If not, the difference would seem to be agreement or support with the criminal act. Prosecutors and courts are not supposed to show any deference or favoritism in the enforcement of such laws.
Echols insisted that he wanted to try them for misdemeanors and “acts of vandalism, regardless of noble intent, are still violations of law.” Indeed, it would seem to be felonies when you destroy public art that is roughly a century old. Instead, there is public celebration as these defendants escape any criminal liability for crimes committed in broad daylight.
Echols took no questions after announcing “This concludes the criminal prosecution of the individuals charged in the Aug. 14 destruction of a Confederate monument in Durham County.”
Indeed, it concludes more than just this case. The next time a mob decides to destroy public art, Echols will be hard pressed to prosecute the felons without establishing open hypocrisy in the enforcement of state law.