Clash at protest

Warrants issued after Pittsboro scuffle

Posted 6/26/20

PITTSBORO — A clash last week between protesters near the former site of Pittsboro’s Confederate soldier monument led to at least one injury, and Pittsboro police are still seeking one of the …

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Clash at protest

Warrants issued after Pittsboro scuffle

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Posted

PITTSBORO — A clash last week between protesters near the former site of Pittsboro’s Confederate soldier monument led to at least one injury, and Pittsboro police are still seeking one of the persons responsible for the violence.

Warrants were issued last Thursday for the arrest of Tommy Parnell of Surry County with multiple charges after the disturbance.

Confederate “flaggers” have been sporadically returning to Pittsboro over the past few weeks, once again protesting the removal of the “Our Confederate Heroes” monument that previously stood on the grounds of the Historic Chatham County Courthouse. Leading up to the statue’s removal last November, and for several weeks following, protesters and demonstrators descended on Pittsboro’s downtown, mostly on Saturdays.

Those on both sides of the debate — many of them from outside Chatham County — have often confronted each other verbally, and occasionally physically, in the past. Business owners in downtown had just begun to breathe a sigh of relief as those protests eventually died down. But the battle seems to have renewed itself last Thursday as tensions rose between protesters.

Around lunchtime, a small group of between 10 and 15 pro-Confederate supporters showed up at the town’s circle and stood on the grounds of the courthouse, carrying flags. A counter-demonstration group soon began to build in the parking lot of the Blair Building on the circle.

A widely circulated Facebook video by Kerwin Pittman, a counter-protester and activist from Raleigh, showed the latter hours of the demonstration and subsequent scuffle. The video recorded protesters shouting expletives at each other, with counter-protesters using a bullhorn. Just prior to 7 p.m. Thursday, the pro-Confederate group left the courthouse grounds and walked its way toward the parking lot adjacent to Beggers and Choosers, which rests on the northeast quadrant of the circle, where they were parked.

The video shows that as they walked, the shouting continued with one of the pro-Confederates saying “We’ll be back” as a counter-protester on a bullhorn shouted at them. Several counter-protesters stood in front of one the pro-Confederate’s vehicle while counter-protesters tried to urge them to let them leave. As the counter-protesters moved away, a fight broke out with pro-Confederates using their flags — some of which were attached to hockey sticks — as weapons. The video shows a female counter-protester sitting on the steps with a bloodied nose and face. An ambulance was called to the scene, but it was unclear whether the victim's injuries required hospitalization.

Police arrived at the scene to disperse the crowd. Pittsboro Police Lieutenant Carrol Swain later investigated the fight using video from the scene from Pittman’s posting. As a result, the Pittsboro Police Department issued warrants for the arrest of Parnell for felony assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious bodily injury and four misdemeanor charges including assault on a female, inciting a riot, disorderly conduct and impeding traffic. As of press time, those warrants had not yet been served.

Other residents of Pittsboro seem to be taking a different kind of stand against the pro-Confederate flaggers. Last week, Lea Ciceraro of Chatham County started a GoFundMe to raise funds for a “Black Lives Matters” billboard on U.S. Hwy. 64 East Business. The billboard’s proposed location is adjacent to the property of Sam White, a Pittsboro resident who was arrested early in the protests for driving a back-hoe laden with Confederate memorabilia down Sanford Road where protesters were facing off over a Confederate flag that was installed across from Horton Middle School. The school, formerly Horton High School, was the historic African-American high school prior to desegregation. White currently has a Confederate flag hanging on the property.

“Pittsboro, North Carolina, is a close-knit small town filled with kind hearts, artists, farmers, families, and a community that is here to change the world for the better,” the GoFundMe page description reads. “Those Confederate flags do NOT represent who we are as a community. It is important for us now more than ever as a community to show our support for #BLACKLIVESMATTER, with that message on a billboard that is counter to the confederate flags next to it.”

The original goal of $1,000 was met so quickly that the organizer expanded the goal to $6,500 to fund an entire year. After reaching close to that goal, it was increased to $10,000 and any additional funds would go toward a scholarship fund “that supports racial equity here in Chatham County.” As of Monday, the fund had raised $7,410. The estimated date for installation is not yet known.

As for the incident on Thursday, Pittman, who took the cell phone video, told WRAL, “It was like a mob attacking individuals with different poles and sticks and different things of that nature. And that is highly unacceptable.”

Pro-Confederate protesters have stated on social media and at gatherings they plan to continue to demonstrate at the site.

“Every chance I get,” Robert Butler told WRAL. “We’re not backing down. We told them when they took that statue, we’re not backing down. And we will not back down. That’s our history.”

Casey Mann can be reached at CaseyMann@Chathamnr.com.

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