Durham, North Carolina, is a black city. Or, at least, it was a black city. Durham has long had a thriving black middle class and was known in the early 20th century as "Black Wall Street." In the last few years, however, Durham has become increasingly white as urban redevelopment and gentrification have made it the type of place white people want to live. And I should know. I moved to Durham in 2010, a few years before Duke students stopped being afraid to go downtown. I was a part of that shift.
The changing demographics, as well as police shootings of people of color, both locally and nationally, have caused escalating tensions in this old industrial town. The Atlantic published a piece on Durham's "revitalization" and its impact last year—it's worth a read—but for anyone who has never been there, Durham is a bit like the Central District is here: It's a once-thriving black community that is now home to white-owned lifestyle stores and restaurants the The New York Times raves about. And it's no longer cheap.)
Durham made national headlines this week after protesters—at least eight of whom now face charges—pulled down a Confederate memorial that had been erected in front of the city's courthouse in 1924. As an act of solidarity, hundreds of activists and supporters lined up Thursday to turn themselves in, saying they, too, had pulled the statue down. I wish I had been there to see this.
Today, things escalated, as rumors of a KKK rally in downtown Durham began to spread, and thousands of protesters—including many of my friends—took to the streets with signs, flags, and drums to march against the Klan. County offices and even some downtown businesses closed in anticipation of the rumored rally and counter-protest, which moved from the courthouse to the jail and turned into a sort of carnival as people sang and danced in the streets, declaring victory over the KKK. It's been the only thing on my social media feeds all day, and it's been a glorious thing to watch unfold, even from a distance.
But the thing is, there was no KKK rally.
According to the INDY Week, Durham's alt weekly, on Friday morning, "reporter Sarah Willets was at the Durham County Courthouse, where she heard that Sheriff Mike Andrews had confirmed that a hate group—possibly the Klan—was going to hold a demonstration at noon." Rumors soon started to spread via social media.
But the KKK never showed up. There were, according to witnesses, two white males at the site of the torn-down Confederate memorial who gave a Nazi salute and then faced off with 100 or so protesters, but they were quickly ushered away. The INDY has been unable to substantiate any other KKK or neo Nazi presence. Now, it's possible that a white supremacist rally was planned and no one showed up—the city certainly seemed to take this threat seriously—but at this point, there's no evidence of that.
We want to encourage people to rely on VERIFIED information. There have been numerous reports of the KKK coming - all unverified.
— Durham Sheriff (@DurhamSheriff) August 18, 2017
I don't know how to feel about this. On one hand, I'm proud of Durham, a place I (still) think of as home. Durham showed the fuck up. Durham always shows the fuck up. And maybe the response from the public is what kept the KKK away. This certainly isn't the first time the KKK has failed to appear, and today was a beautiful, inspiring occasion for many of the people who were there. But I'm also concerned: If unsubstiated rumors—which were started by the Sheriff's Department, and which the Durham PD responded to by sending out cops in riot gear—can spread online and shut down a city before anyone knows if they are actually true, we've got bigger problems with fake news than I thought.
Update 7:56 p.m.: Drinking and thinking here. What if this was the KKK's plan all along? Spread rumors of a rally, get everyone riled up, and stay home eating waffles fries while every Trump-voting grandma who watches the nightly news later is going to see masked protestors facing off with riot cops and assume they are coming for her jewelry. Worth thinking about!!!!