Education

Barriers placed around 'Silent Sam' statue ahead of planned rally at UNC

Posted August 21, 2017 9:17 p.m. EDT
Updated July 13, 2018 2:05 p.m. EDT

— Fliers circulating on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus indicate that a rally is planned for 7 p.m. at the university's "Silent Sam" Confederate statue. Meanwhile, crews started setting up barriers around the statue on Tuesday morning.

The reason for the barriers is still unclear, but Gov. Roy Cooper on Monday told UNC system officials that they have the authority to take immediate action if they believe the statue is posing a risk to public safety.

"If the University and its leadership believe such a dangerous condition is on campus, then the law gives it the authority to address those concerns. State law enforcement and emergency officials remain available to help and support the University as it navigates this process," Cooper wrote.

A spokesperson for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill released a response on Tuesday, saying the university does not legally have authority to remove the statue from campus unless a building inspector concludes physical disrepair of the statue poses a threat to public safety.

"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. 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," the statement read.

Barrier placed around UNC 'Silent Sam' statue

Rally planned at Silent Sam statue

Cooper's comments came in response to a letter sent Monday by UNC system officials expressing fear the statue, which has been the subject of debate for several years and has previously been vandalized, could spark protests that could lead to injury or property damage.

“Chancellor [Carol] Folt has notified us that the law enforcement staff at UNC-Chapel Hill believe that it is only a matter of time before an attempt is made to pull down Silent Sam in much the same manner we saw in Durham,” the letter said. “Based on our interactions with state and local law enforcement, including the State Bureau of Investigation, an attempt may occur at any time.”

A crowd of protesters last week toppled a Confederate statue outside the former Durham County courthouse. Eight people face criminal charges in the case.

UNC system officials said that, because Silent Sam is in a prominent location on the Chapel Hill campus – near residence halls, classrooms and the financial aid building – they worry that protests that would likely draw outside groups could injure a student or significantly disrupt university operations.

Barrier placed around UNC 'Silent Sam' statue

The letter to Cooper comes on the same day Folt issued a statement to students, warning them about the potential Tuesday evening rally at the Silent Sam monument.

In the statement, Folt said that, while university officials realize the event may garner interest on campus, students are encouraged not to attend for their own safety.

“We also know that many in our community have expressed concerns about their safety on and around the campus during such events. And we know that the outside groups who may attend such a rally may be more interested in promoting discord and violence to advance their own agendas than engaging in a constructive and peaceful protest,” Folt said in the statement.

In the letter to Cooper, system officials said they believe there is a “strong likelihood” the university will require substantial law enforcement and emergency services support because of ongoing safety and security threats surrounding the statue.

Barrier placed around UNC 'Silent Sam' statue

UNC-Chapel Hill is the only campus in the UNC system that has a Confederate monument on its property. Last week, Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger requested that the university petition the North Carolina Historical Commission to immediately remove Silent Sam from campus “in the interest of public safety.”