UNC students plan rally in 'solidarity' with criminal vandal
Silent Sam, post-vandalism (Photo credit: Kirk A. Bado)
University of North Carolina students are once again planning to protest a “racist” Confederate statue on campus after administrators reaffirmed their inability to remove it.
According to The Greensboro News & Record, the new chairman of the UNC Board of Governors, Harry Smith, recently issued a statement declaring that the Board “has no plans to take any action regarding the monument at this time,” noting that “neither UNC-Chapel Hill nor the UNC System have the legal authority to unilaterally relocate the Silent Sam statue.”
"The [Board of Governors] has made it apparent that they do not genuinely value what the members of our campus and local community have to say about Silent Sam."
Students plan to gather off campus at the Peace and Justice Plaza, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina on Aug 20 in protest of the “Silent Sam” statue and in support of Maya Little, a UNC graduate student who was arrested in April for throwing a mixture of red paint and blood on the statue.
The event, “Not One Left Standing,” had more than 150 positive RSVPs and 352 who are “interested” in attending as of press time.
The page describes the event as “a protest in solidarity with Maya Little who faces trial on the morning of this event for covering Silent Sam in paint and her own blood. To all those who have fought and are fighting against the white supremacy that UNC has always promoted, benefited from, and upheld.”
A promotional flyer for the event, titled “Until They All Fall,” even features a dedication to Little.
“[This is] a demonstration against institutional white supremacy at UNC, in solidarity with Maya Little on the day of her trial for marking Silent Sam with her own blood,” the flyer reads.
Little’s supporters have also started an online petition to “drop the charges” against her, which has garnered more than 5,700 signatures toward its 7,500 goal.
Additional pressure has come from students, alumni, and faculty on social media, where two groups, “Move Silent Sam” and “Not One Left Standing,” have been created to advocate for the removal of the statue.
“#DearUNC22 start your semester by demanding a campus free of racism,” one student cajoled classmates on Twitter. “Join us August 20 at 7pm at Peace and Justice Plaza. #SilenceSam.”
“UNC was built by enslaved Black hands on Native land and it's always been Black and Brown students and workers who have fought to make it ‘the university of the people,’” tweeted the “Not One Left Standing” account. “On August 20 we honor them, we organize, and we will smash #UNC white supremacy.”
The “Move Silent Sam” account, meanwhile, tweeted that it was a “sad day” when current UNC President, Margaret Spellings, was passed over for a position at the University of Texas.
“We ALMOST got rid of Margaret Spellings, our racist, anti-gay UNC System president,” the post read.
As previously reported by Campus Reform, UNC is unable to remove the statue because of a 2015 state law that prevents the removal of monuments on public property without approval from the North Carolina Historical Commission.
Some, including Democratic Governor Roy Cooper, have suggested that UNC could exploit a provision in the law allowing for monuments to be removed if a building inspector concludes that physical disrepair of a statue threatens public safety, but UNC issued a statement last August noting that this is “a situation not present here.”
Vandals have done their best to change that, however, forcing UNC-Chapel Hill to spend $390,000 for security around the statue in 2017, according to the News & Record.
“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,” the 2017 statement asserted, “but the University can act only in accordance with the laws of the state of North Carolina.”
Although UNC lacks the legal authority to remove the monument, some students and activists insist that their concerns are being ignored by the Board of Governors.
"The [Board of Governors] has made it apparent that they do not genuinely value what the members of our campus and local community have to say about Silent Sam," UNC student Alyssa Bowen told Inside Higher Ed. "They hold public comments sections before every UNC [Board of Governors] meeting, where about a third of the members show up and many play on their phones. They are supposed to respond to the comments, but that hasn’t happened since May 2017."
“I think this excuse of the state law is a fig leaf,” added Hampton Dellinger, a lawyer working with activists at UNC. “UNC needs to comply with federal law as a federally funded institution. As long as Silent Sam remains standing in the middle of campus…I believe the university is violating the Civil Rights Act.”
According to Dellinger, “the presence of this armed soldier in the form of the monument creates a racially hostile education environment at a public institution that receives federal funds.”
UPDATE: A spokesperson for UNC provided Campus Reform with the following statement:
"Chancellor Folt’s highest priority is always the protection of the Carolina community and her approach to campus safety has the full support of the Board of Trustees, the Provost, and other campus leaders. Since the tragic events in Charlottesville last August, UNC Police have heightened security around the Confederate Monument to protect students, faculty, staff, and visitors, which is the University’s primary goal. Protecting the monument is always secondary to the safety of the people around it. The campus community has a long tradition of peaceful protests and respectful debate. Public safety officials and administrators are most concerned about outside groups, over which the University has no control and who may appear without warning."