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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Tense Moments in A Peaceful Protest of UNC's Silent Sam

Posted by on Wed, Aug 23, 2017 at 6:48 AM

click to enlarge SARAH WILLETS
  • Sarah Willets
Three people were arrested in a protest that brought hundreds of people to the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill and saw several tense confrontations between demonstrators and police.

The rally began at Silent Sam, a Confederate monument on campus, with speeches from protesters and chants calling for the monument to be torn down. When police took a protester into custody, much of the crowd ran after them to Hyde Hall. There, protesters confronted officers, some of whom were wearing riot gear.



From there, protesters tried to block a police van carrying the person arrested from turning on to Franklin Street. They banged on the van and chanted, "Let him go." Meanwhile, other protesters posted up outside the house of UNC president Margaret Spellings.



Pushing broke out in the crowd, and a second person was detained. As protesters sat down on the sidewalk, refusing to leave without the two people detained, law enforcement physically removed them, forcing the crowd into Franklin Street. (Warning: Shaky video)




Hundreds of people followed the van as it drove away from campus before marching back to Silent Sam.


In anticipation of the rally, the university had cautioned students to stay away from the area if they didn't want to participate and put up two rows of metal fencing around the monument. During the rally, police remained between the rows.

Silent Sam was dedicated in 1913 to honor students who fought in the war. A dedication speech by industrialist Julian Carr was invoked several times Tuesday night as protesters quelled the few people that had come to counterprotest.

"This is Silent Sam's last semester," one speaker yelled to the crowd.

Scattered arguments, some shouted over the barriers that surrounded Silent Sam, broke out over free speech, whether Confederate monuments honor war dead or white supremacy and whether police should be equated with the Ku Klux Klan. One person left after a handful of protesters chanted, "You are not welcome here."

Two people, both unaffiliated with the university, were arrested by UNC police. A third, UNC student Claude Wilson, was charged by Chapel Hill police with resisting arrest.

"Above subject was arrested for preventing a police vehicle from retreating from the crowd and
pushing away officers when he was told to move," an arrest report reads. "Subject was arrested and Ofc. Jeffreys loaded into a Orange County transport van. That was blocked by the crowd. After clearing the crowd the van went straight to the magistrate`s office for fear of the crowd following us to the PD."

"At a certain point, you can't argue with someone about your humanity," said one UNC senior, who only gave her first name, Treasure.

Protesters repeatedly called out Chancellor Carol Folt, who said in a statement Monday that
“if we had the ability to immediately move the statue in the interest of public safety, we would."

"Silent Sam is more protected than any student at this university," said one senior who took the megaphone earlier in the evening. " ... Folt and the administration continue to prioritize wealthy alumni over students of color."

The university seemingly had an out when Governor Cooper invoked an exception to a 2015 state law protecting monuments, but Folt didn't take it.

"If our University leaders believe there is real risk to public safety, the law allows them to take immediate measures," Cooper told the administration. The law says an "object of remembrance for which a building inspector or similar official has determined poses a threat to public safety because of an unsafe or dangerous condition."

But the university isn't taking that as permission to remove Silent Sam.

"Governor Cooper cites a provision where removal would be permitted if a 'building inspector' concludes that physical disrepair of a statue threatens public safety, a situation not present here. The University is now caught between conflicting legal interpretations of the statute from the Governor and other legal experts," UNC said in a statement yesterday afternoon. "Based on law enforcement agencies’ assessments, we continue to believe that removing the Confederate Monument is in the best interest of the safety of our campus, but the University can act only in accordance with the laws of the state of North Carolina."

One protester said if Silent Sam does come down, it will likely be done quietly overnight, like at Duke University and the University of Texas.

Treasure, who is active in organizing at UNC, said she'd rather see the university remove the statue as opposed to protesters tearing it down. If people of color were involved in removing the statue illegally, she worries they would be arrested and the action would be "spun in a negative light."

Treasure said more people showed up to the rally than she expected, but much of the crowd, which dwindled after nine p.m., seemed to come out to "see what the spectacle was."

"If you're not understanding what this represents," she said, referring to Silent Sam, "how can you understand the larger picture of what we're trying to do?"

Chants of "love trumps hate" missed the mark, she said. "Love didn't bring down Hitler. Love didn't stop any dictator. Love didn't end the Confederacy."

Treasure said, in her experience, UNC Chapel Hill isn't as liberal as it appears. She's seen black students turned away from fraternity parties because they weren't athletes. She notes that the Unsung Founders Memorial (dedicated to "People Of Color Bound And Free—Who Helped Build The Carolina That We Cherish Today") is dwarfed in size by Silent Sam.

"I feel like a lot of people don't understand the issue because they have the luxury of not having to think about it. Everyday I wake up, I'm black. Every night I go to sleep, I'm black. I don't have a choice. Showing up is difficult, but so is being black."

Around ten p.m, Treasure asked the couple hundred remaining protesters to take a seat. "So they know we're in it for the long haul," she said.
click to enlarge SARAH WILLETS
  • Sarah Willets

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