CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) – With students returning for the fall semester, Chapel Hill’s mayor says police are working with administrators at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to prepare in case of an event similar to what happened in Charlottesville this weekend.
“Recognizing that we may not be immune from such an assault upon our own community for upholding the values that we share, it is important to make it clear that, although we support First Amendment rights, we will not tolerate hatred, bigotry, racism or violence,” said Mayor Pam Hemminger. “We are taking necessary steps to protect the safety and well-being of our community, which at this time of year is welcoming students for the fall semester from all over our state, our nation and the world.”
UNC’s campus is home to the controversial Silent Sam statue. A new online petition is calling for the monument’s removal.
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It was dedicated in 1913 in memory of alumni who died fighting in the Civil War and to students who joined the Confederate Army.
According to a website sponsored by the University Library, Julian Carr spoke at the statue’s dedication saying, “100 yards from where we stand, less than 90 days perhaps after my return from Appomattox, I horse-whipped a negro wench, until her skirts hung in shreds, because upon the streets of this quiet village she had publicly insulted and maligned a Southern lady.”
Groups for and against the statue remaining on UNC’s campus gathered around it in 2015. Though the debate grew heated at times, there were no injuries.
In a message to the community Tuesday, UNC administrators addressed the incidents in Charlottesville and noted a 2015 North Carolina law that prohibits the removal of monuments without permission from the state’s Historical Commission.
Jordan Llanes is a UNC junior who says the statue shouldn’t be removed because it’s a reminder of the state’s history and a past that should never be repeated.
“It’s a monument to this so we can remember what had occurred, and I believe that’s something that should be remembered always,” he said.
However, some students say the statue undermines the university’s messages about diversity and inclusion.
“This reminds people that UNC did not always have the greatest history,” said Amspon Hagan. “It sends conflicting messages to people who are studying things that are counterproductive to this.”
UNC installed a security camera nearby following previous acts of vandalism to the statue.
“University officials previously have spoken publicly about using those cameras when investigating past vandalism at the Confederate Monument. When University Police become aware of or receive a report of damage including vandalism to any campus property, they investigate that incident as a possible crime,” Joanne Peters Denny, the university’s director of media relations, wrote in an email.
WCNC also saw police officers patrolling the area Wednesday.
State law enforcement officers also have been monitoring areas where there are Confederate monuments.
“The Department of Public Safety’s number one priority is and will remain public safety. We are closely monitoring the events that have occurred in North Carolina and other states. DPS officials are working closely with its internal teams in NC Emergency Management, the NC Information Sharing and Analysis Center, State Highway Patrol and State Capitol Police, as well as local emergency managers and law enforcement statewide to promote and enhance public safety. DPS will maintain a presence in public areas and will continue to be vigilant to help ensure order, with its primary mission being public safety,” wrote Public Safety Secretary Erik Hooks.
In nearby Carrboro, the town’s Board of Aldermen called a special meeting Wednesday night to pass a resolution condemning racism and white supremacy. They also called for the repeal of the 2105 law regarding monuments and the removal of the Silent Sam statue.
“I think to remain silent during times like this is incredibly dangerous. Remaining silent says it’s OK, or it’s not that bad,” said board member Jacquelyn Gist.