We recently discussed the latest destruction of a statue in North Carolina and I expressed my skepticism over the inaction of police as well as the absence of significant arrests for a crime committed openly in public while surrounded by officers. Now, WRAL-TV obtained text messages and emails that showed Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue actually ordered his officers to back off as protesters were destroying a century-old statue.
The destruction of the Confederate monument known as “Silent Sam” followed a familiar pattern. Earlier this year, I was critical of the handling of the prosecution of various protesters in North Carolina who torn down a statue in public and then celebrated their criminal acts in broad daylight. Because the statue of a civil war memorial, the act of property destruction was condoned by many and Durham District Attorney Roger Echols caved to the pressure in dropping all charges against everyone. It was effective immunity for a popular criminal act — a dangerous concept in any legal system.
The recently discovered messages from Blue shows the same special protection afforded those who are committing popular crimes. Blue ordered his officers to give the protesters “lots of space” and “stay way out.” At one point, he even chastised officers for being “too close” to an unfolding crime in front of them. Some, like Thom Goolsby, a UNC Board of Governors member, criticized the police for a lack faction.
Despite the open commission of the crime by multiple people, only three face misdemeanor charges of rioting and defacing a public monument. Of course, even misdemeanor charges were dropped eventually by Echols in the earlier case when he buckled under public pressure.
The fact that such destruction would be a misdemeanor rather than a felony is bizarre. In North Carolina, a Class H Felony Larceny charge is used for any property or services valued at over a $1000. Yet, you can openly destroy a century old statue and caused far greater monetary damage but only face a misdemeanor?
Under G.S. 14-288.2(e), a person is guilty of a Class F felony if he or she (1)willfully (2) incites or urges another (3) to engage in a riot, and (4) the inciting or urging is a contributing cause of a riot which (5) results in (a) property damage of $1,500 or more or(b)serious bodily injury. Yet, this charge was not brought in a coordinated effort to destroy a public memorial or art work.
The low number of arrests and minor charges naturally raise suspicions that prosecutors and police are shielding people who commit popular criminal acts.
What do you think?