CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Several hundred protesters converged at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on Tuesday evening to demonstrate against a confederate statue known as Silent Sam, chanting “tear it down” and calling on campus administrators to remove it.
A large police force surrounded the monument as demonstrators — a mix of students, scholars and community members — decried the war memorial with posters that read “Black Lives Matter,” “White People-We Must Own Our Racism” and “Tear it Down.”
“This is Silent Sam’s last semester on this campus,” one speaker declared. “It celebrates the subjugation of black and brown people,” said another.
The protest continued into the night, with protesters sitting around the police barricade protecting the statue.
— Jonathan Drew (@JonLDrew) August 23, 2017
At one point the event became heated when a male protester was detained by police, prompting the crowd to chant “cops and Klan go hand in hand.” Protesters then surrounded the police van the man was held in, chanting “let him go” repeatedly, tweets of the event show.
As the protest continued into the night, it migrated to streets near campus, and demonstrators chanted: “Hey hey, ho ho, this racist statue has got to go.”
Two people unaffiliated with the university were arrested, campus officials announced on Twitter, adding “the free exchange of ideas under the First Amendment is core to our mission. We thank the town, county and state for their support tonight.”
Silent Sam, completed in 1913, memorializes the Chapel Hill students who left college to fight for the South. The memorial has become a point of contention on campus among students who claim it represents racism, hate, and white supremacy.
It has been repeatedly vandalized in recent years, and the recent wave of upheaval surrounding Confederate emblems sparked Tuesday’s rally.
Though North Carolina law bans the permanent removal of monuments without state permission, Gov. Roy Cooper told the university it had the power to remove the statue on its own should there be an imminent threat, noting if university leaders “believe there is a real risk to public safety, the law allows them to take immediate measures.”
Chancellor Carol Folt alerted the campus community that the decision to remove the statue remains in limbo.
“Despite how it is being interpreted in the media, the University has not been given the clear legal authority to act unilaterally,” Folt stated.
“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,” she added. “As we continue to seek clear guidance and legal authority to act, we ask for your patience and cooperation to help us maintain as safe an environment as we possibly can.”
Local officials, including Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger, have also requested Chancellor Folt immediately remove Silent Sam from its current location and place it in storage.