GRAHAM — Tensions are high as debate over a Confederate statue persists while permits to protest its presence are denied.
In a news release last Friday, the Graham Police Department said that permits for protests won’t be granted for the “foreseeable future” because of “a clear and imminent threat to public safety.”
It’s just the latest ripple effect as North Carolina grapples with systemic racism in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police.
At the heart of that struggle is a variety of Confederate monuments that dot small towns and cities across the state. A number of groups want them gone — or at least relocated — and have been successful in the last few weeks.
In contrast, those who view monuments to the Confederacy as part of their Southern heritage have been steadfastly fighting their removal at every turn.
Graham’s announcement came following a series of protests over its Confederate monument, which was dedicated in 1914 and is located at the city’s historic courthouse. During a protest there on June 20, two men were arrested.
Late last week, roughly 150 people dressed in black and wearing masks walked around downtown until 8 p.m., according to local media outlets. Law enforcement was present, but since marchers weren’t carrying signs or chanting, no one was charged with violating the protest ban.
And during a protest over the weekend, a 27-year-old Burlington man was arrested after he became confrontational and refused to leave, according to police.
The issue became more divisive on Monday. Nearly 50 of Alamance County’s government, business and education leaders signed a letter urging elected officials to relocate the Confederate statue.
At a press conference Monday morning, those leaders made their case for the monument’s removal.
Connie Ledoux Book, the president of Elon University, said the monument “has long been a source of conflict in our community and it stands as a symbol of racism for many.”
“Our society is becoming more fully aware of the stark realities of racism and injustice,” Book said. “Now is a time for truth, healing and a new commitment to the concepts of liberty and justice for all. I am convinced we cannot fully achieve the aspirations of our democracy with divisive symbols such as this Confederate monument in Graham in our midst.”
On Monday afternoon, the Alamance County Board of Commissioners said in a statement that it does not have the “legal authority” under state law to remove the monument.
The five-member board also accused those who signed the letter of keeping the effort hidden.
“Why was it done in secret and then unveiled at a press conference?” the statement said. “This would lead an observer to believe that this ‘call to action’ is political in nature. Its true purpose would not appear to be to persuade the commissioners, but to ambush them in as public a manner as possible.”