Editorial: Legal bickering distracts from resolving Confederate monument removal
Posted August 23
CBC Editorial: Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017; Editorial # 8202
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company
Once again an ill-advised, badly intended and poorly executed legislative solution has imposed hardship on local officials seeking to resolve a problem best handled in their communities.
In the worst traditions of House Bill 2, North Carolina’s 2015 law concerning Confederate monuments in public spaces (“Senate Bill 22”), local governments are left toothless to confront heightened emotions and volatile confrontations over the removal of Confederate monuments.
Basically, the General Assembly seized control of monuments on any government property and decreed that the monuments “may not be removed, relocated or altered in anyway without approval of the North Carolina Historical Commission.”
The troubling consequences of the legislature’s authoritarian action is being played out, among other places, on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The statue of a Confederate soldier, “Silent Sam,” (silent because he lacks an ammunition pouch) was erected under the auspices of the United Daughters of the Confederacy – the height of the imposition of Jim Crow segregation laws – and dedicated in 1913.
It is in praise of rebellion against the United States. History clearly shows it, and others like it throughout the state and the South, were placed to display the imposition of racial segregation after post-Civil War reconstruction. At the dedication of “Silent Sam” industrialist Julian Carr, a Confederate veteran, spoke of protecting the "Anglo Saxon race." He recollected whipping a “negro wench” in the presence of federal troops in Chapel Hill following his return from Appomattox “because the woman had publicly insulted a ‘Southern lady.’”
Following the recent despicable display of white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va. there has been heightened awareness of the sad legacy of these memorials. President Donald Trump’s bumbling reply to the demonstration, astonishingly defending the supremacists further fueled the controversy that quickly spread to communities throughout the South, including North Carolina.
Correspondence between University of North Carolina, UNC-Chapel Hill and Gov. Roy Cooper, clearly shows the turmoil resulting from the legislature’s capricious action.
University officials, worried about the potential for violence, say because of SB 22 they don’t have the authority to remove the statue – even for safety reasons – without permission of the state Historical Commission.
Cooper, who has called for the removal of Confederate monuments throughout the state, says the university can remove the statue. “If our university leaders believe there is real risk to public safety, the law allows them to take immediate measures” – including removing the statue.
“The University has not been given the clear legal authority to act unilaterally,” UNC-Chapel Hill officials said in a statement responding to the governor. “We continue to believe that removing the Confederate Monument is in the best interest of the safety of our campus. … We continue to seek clear guidance and legal authority to act.”
The governor has continued to pledge law enforcement support if needed. Further, under the law "UNC has the ability to take down the statue and the governor hopes that they do so,” said Noelle Tally of the governor’s communications office.
Instead of focusing on the security and safety of the students, faculty and the community, campus, UNC system and state officials are debating legal fine print.
Legislative leaders may revel in the stalemate that preserves monuments to the state’s racist past. Unfortunately the result is further alienation and insult to North Carolina citizens.
The resolution isn’t in greater police presence, ever stronger barricades and more defenses for indefensible statues and monuments.
Here are four easy steps to resolve the needless dilemma UNC and others face:
- “Silent Sam” and these other statues and monuments need to come down – not at the hands of mobs -- but in an orderly, safe and purposeful process.
- Attorney General Josh Stein should issue an advisory opinion affirming Cooper’s view that it is within the intent of SB22, to allow local agencies and public campuses to remove Confederate monuments if their presence is a threat to public safety.
- Senate Bill 22 must be repealed. It is an inappropriate task for the state Historical Commission.
- The state Department of Natural and Cultural Resources needs to quickly issue its recommendations, in reply to Gov. Cooper’s request, for alternative sites for these monuments “where they can be studied in context.”