Chapel Hill, N.C.
Chuck Liddy/The News & Observer via AP
Protesters scuffle with the police during a rally on the campus of the U. of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on Saturday.
It was supposed to be a rally in support of Silent Sam, the Confederate monument at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill that was yanked to the ground by activists in a stunning scene on Monday night. Instead, the event on Saturday demonstrated the virtual collapse on campus of public support for re-erecting the statue.
About a dozen or so Silent Sam supporters, many waving Confederate flags, marched to McCorkle Place, the lush green main entrance to campus. They were met by about 150 students and activists chanting slogans like, “We run this town! We tore your … statue down!” (with a vulgar description for “statue”) and “The cops and the Klan go hand in hand!”
Tim Osborn, a Ph.D. student in physics, spent the morning alternating between resting against a tree in McCorkle Place while strumming his guitar and screaming face to face with a Silent Sam supporter who was sporting a Nazi tattoo and gripping a Confederate flag. Osborn said he wouldn’t be surprised if the university tried to put the statue up again, as lawmakers and some members of the UNC system’s Board of Governors have demanded.
“I cannot imagine the community and the student body allowing it to happen,” Osborn said. “The students spoke on Monday night. The community spoke on Monday night. The statue has no business being on campus.”
“The students spoke on Monday night. The community spoke on Monday night. The statue has no business being on campus.”
The rally, if it could be called that, ended when the Confederate sympathizers were chased off McCorkle Place and onto Franklin Street by activists chanting in pursuit. It marked the end of a remarkable week, when on the first day of classes a crowd of protesters tore the 105-year-old monument off its pedestal and set off a raging debate about the next chapter of the Silent Sam saga.
After the events last year in Charlottesville, Va., where a white-supremacist rally turned deadly in a town similar to Chapel Hill, universities are extra vigilant about race-related protests. UNC sent out an email on Friday about the possibility that unknown groups would attend, and urged students and community members not to.
The university received withering criticism from some conservative lawmakers and board members for not preventing the statue from falling on Monday. The board called for an investigation into the actions of the university and the campus police.
On Saturday morning, several dozen police officers fanned out into McCorkle Place, the plaza that housed the toppled monument. They acted swiftly to quell disturbances, like when counterprotesters snatched a Confederate flag and appeared to stomp it and douse it in fluid to burn it, or to stop shoving matches between the groups. Police officers rushed, and sometimes ran, with arrestees to a police staging center set up inside a nearby building before they could be swarmed by counterprotesters.
The police made seven arrests as of early afternoon, by which time the clash had mostly died down. Three were for assault; two for assault, destruction of property, and inciting a riot; one for destruction of property; and one for resisting an officer, according to a university spokeswoman.
In a conference call with reporters, Chancellor Carol L. Folt said none of the people arrested were affiliated with the university. Folt thanked law enforcement and said Silent Sam will continue to be a “lightning rod” and that it has taken “a tremendous toll on our campus and community.” She did not offer a solution, however.
Folt was asked whether it’s her position that the university is required to reinstall Silent Sam within 90 days, as Thomas C. Goolsby, a UNC-system board member, said this week. “I’m not really ready to tell you that,” she said. “I think we need to really look into that.”
Protesters and counterprotesters remained on McCorkle Place all day, but things eventually calmed down. As of 6 p.m., a man stood silently holding a Confederate flag. Osborn, meanwhile, retook his spot under the tree, quietly strumming Johnny Cash’s “God’s Gonna Cut You Down.”