Hundreds Protest On UNC Campus Against Confederate Statue
Updated 11:45 a.m., August 23, 2017
Three people are facing charges related to a demonstration against a Confederate statue at the University of North Carolina.
University police arrested two people, while Chapel Hill Police arrested a third. Hundreds joined the protest Tuesday night against the bronze Confederate soldier known as "Silent Sam" on the Chapel Hill campus.
A Chapel Hill Police Department report shows 19-year-old Claude Wilson was charged with misdemeanor resisting arrest. The report says the UNC student blocked a police vehicle and then pushed officers away when he was told to move. Wilson didn't immediately return a message seeking comment.
UNC spokesman Randy Young said neither of the people arrested by campus police were affiliated with the university. Arrest reports listing their charges were to be released later Wednesday.
On Tuesday night, protesters were heard chanting "Tear it down" and "Hey hey, ho ho. This racist statue's got to go," as police in riot gear protected the statue.
Several speakers addressed the crowd with a megaphone. One was Mario Benavente, a university senior who said the statue glorifies slavery. "It celebrates the subjugation of black and brown people," he told the crowd.
Another student, junior Oliver Mitchell-Boyask said the monument should be put in a museum, not displayed on campus.
"Putting them up on pedestals like this says that we’re honoring them, worshipping them," Mitchell-Boyask said. "And yeah, these people died, and they deserve to be remembered, but they don’t deserve to be put on a pedestal."
The crowd later marched through Franklin Street toward what protest leaders said was the home of the university system president. After blocking traffic for about 20 minutes, they left without incident and returned to the statue.
Not everyone wanted to see the flag toppled.
David Leeds of Durham brought a sign that said "Hands Off Sam" in big red letters. He told a reporter that he didn't support the Confederacy but was upset by the idea that protesters had broken the law in his city by tearing down a Confederate statue a week ago. He thinks people should go about protesting in a lawful manner.
Two hours into the protest, no demonstrators had breached the barriers around the statue where officers in riot gear stood.
The protest was largely peaceful, but at least one protester who was wearing a black bandana was taken away by officers near the statue. It wasn't immediately clear if he was charged.
Earlier Tuesday, law enforcement officers were seen putting up waist-high metal barriers around the bronze soldier in anticipation of the rally on campus.
Silent Sam stands in UNC’s north quad, and has every so often been the target of vandalism. But Chancellor Carol Folt said in an email that administrators got word of demonstrations being planned at the monument.
Flyers had circulated on social media and around Chapel Hill for a Tuesday evening rally by people who want the statue taken down. In her message, Folt urged students not to attend the rally and said it's being organized by groups not associated with the university.
University officials said they were working with the state on a solution. On Monday night, Gov. Roy Cooper said the university could take Silent Sam down if it became clear that public safety was being threatened.
Later Tuesday, school officials clarified the university has not been given the clear legal authority to act unilaterally. Cooper cites a provision where removal would be permitted if a “building inspector or similar official” concludes that physical disrepair of a statue threatens public safety, a situation not present here, UNC officials said.
“The University is now caught between conflicting legal interpretations of the statute from the Governor and other legal experts,” the statement said. "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."
In nearby Durham, protesters tore down a bronze Confederate statue in front of a government building last week. Days later, Duke University chose to remove a limestone statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from its chapel.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.