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The Newsroom Special Edition: Wilmington protestors, the 'Trump billboard,' and the Confederate monuments

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On this special episode of The Newsroom: a conversation about three Wilmington protestors currently set to stand trial for the destruction of property -- Tim Joyner, Josh Zieseniss, and Nicole Nelson, who many know better as Lily Nicole. All three are members of the lower case leaders, a group that emerged in the summer of 2020 in downtown Wilmington as protests over the killing of George Floyd spread across the country. The group played a major part in leading the protests in Wilmington, calling for wide-reaching changes in the criminal justice system, among other issues.

We had initially planned to tackle the issue for our upcoming episode of The Newsroom, airing the first Friday in June. But the trial is this week, on Thursday morning. So, while we’ll still be talking about this issue next month, we wanted to make space for this conversation right now — with guests Nada Merghani and Jamie McManus, who have both been working to bring attention to the trial. Nada is an activist, organizer, and friend of the lower case leaders. They’ve also spent many years working in the non-profit space, including time spent in Wilmington. Jamie is also a friend of the lower case leaders, and is active in the LGBTQ community.

We also wanted to provide some context along with this interview. There are also links to relevant media coverage.

First, because this is an active criminal case, both the protestors, their advocates, and the District Attorney’s office have all voiced understandable concerns about discussing details. We notified District Attorney Ben David that this interview was slated to take place today, and discussed some of the issues that would likely arise. We look forward to an equally in-depth conversation with him in the near future.

Second, a little factual information about the case: Joyner, Zieseniss, and Nelson are charged with destroying a pro-Trump billboard, a misdemeanor. Joyner is also charged with defacing of one of Wilmington’s downtown Confederate statues, also a misdemeanor.

An additional protestor, James Frazier, was charged with both but, after entering a prayer for judgment on the monument charge, had his charges dropped in the billboard case. Frazier told Port City Daily and others he was never told why his charges were dropped

Third, some background on the monument.

The Confederate Memorial monument, erected in 1924, honors Confederate soldiers from the Wilmington area who died during the Civil War. It was spray-painted with a swastika and the BLM logo -- at least the third time in several years it’s been defaced.

Less than two weeks later, the City of Wilmington relocated the memorial and another nearby confederate monument to an undisclosed location in the middle of the night — where they remain today, nearly a year later. While a 2015 state law prohibits permanently removing them, the city can temporarily move them for public safety reasons. The city must restore them to their original location within 90 days of the threat to public safety subsiding, but there’s no real statutory timeline beyond that.

The monuments are a contentious issue, but for many years, city officials have said their hands are tied, routinely citing state law. It’s worth noting, however, that since the law was passed the city has never engaged its lobbyists or legislative liaison to try and change it.

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Ben Schachtman is a journalist and editor with a focus on local government accountability. He began reporting for Port City Daily in the Wilmington area in 2016 and took over as managing editor there in 2018. He’s a graduate of Rutgers College and later received his MA from NYU and his PhD from SUNY-Stony Brook, both in English Literature. He loves spending time with his wife and playing rock'n'roll very loudly. You can reach him at BSchachtman@whqr.org and find him on Twitter @Ben_Schachtman.