CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) – A rally in opposition to recent incidents involving UNC campus police is now under investigation after someone broke a window at the university’s administration building.
A pane of 12 windows near the entrance to South Building had a sheet of plywood behind it Wednesday evening. Strips of duct tape covered two of the panels.
“We value and support free speech and civil discourse as we work to strengthen the relationship between the police and the community,” said Joel Curran, Vice Chancellor for University Communications.
“However, breaking windows does not represent these values. It endangers the safety of people and is not acceptable. We are grateful no one was injured.”
A crowd of hundreds, most of them students, gathered at 1:30 p.m. across the quad from South Building. People holding signs packed the steps of Wilson Library as a series of speakers expressed displeasure at how campus police have addressed protesters at the site where a Confederate statue stood for nearly a century. Activists toppled Silent Sam the night before the Fall 2018 semester began.
Groups identifying themselves as anti-racists have clashed with pro-Confederate advocates on numerous occasions. The most recent conflicts came in mid-March and at the end of the month.
“The day after the Christchurch mosque shootings, there were armed neo-Confederate bikers who — some on Facebook have typed threats to certain students — they were armed and came to this campus and were on Cameron Street,” UNC freshman De’Ivyion Drew said.
“It’s a class 1 felony to be on education property armed, and the police simply told them to move to Franklin Street, and I think that is an example of the police consciously using their power to assist or not prosecute hateful ideologies on this campus.”
Franklin Street is not part of the university’s property and falls under the Chapel Hill Police Department’s jurisdiction.
“They brought guns to this campus and wrote they were ready to kill UNC students. We need to stand against these violent racists,” doctoral student Lindsay Ayling said.
Senior Psalms White, who is African-American, said she has not felt protected.
“We feel like (campus police) are prioritizing people from the community that are upset about Silent Sam not being on the campus anymore,” White said.
“Coming to the campus and kind of threatening the safety, especially of students of color, and we feel like the police have kind of been catering to them rather than actually listening to the students, and respecting their requests to be taken care of a little bit better while we’re all on campus.”
Campus police take shift monitoring the area where Silent Sam stood at McCorkle Place, which has another memorial nearby. The Unsung Founders Memorial recognizes the contributions of slaves in the construction of the university.
Two members of the Heirs to the Confederacy group face charges following the memorial’s vandalism at the end of March. Some of the speakers at Wednesday’s rally asked why the Founders table was not better protected since it is within a few dozen steps of the Silent Sam site.
Interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz announced this week the creation of a Campus Safety Commission which will include students, faculty members, administrators, and community leaders.
De’Ivyion Drew is one of six students on the 20-person panel which has an intended goal to improve relations between the campus and its police.
“This campus safety commission should be focused on the campus, and this is the campus response. This is the voice of the students, the voice of the policed… This is a great way, a great avenue to have their voices heard on a larger scale,” Drew said.
“It is very important for us to analyze our different privileges and our different implicit biases when we come to the table, and as an administration, as a person who is in a position of power, it is very important to provide an equitable environment where the student voices are heard first, and the community members are centered in the process.”
Psalms White hopes campus police will receive education and training in areas such as biases and sensitivity, and that there will be conversations between officers and students. She said she tries to take time to talk to officers when she sees them on campus, and recognizes and appreciates the service and duty of the police to keep people safe.
White said she doesn’t expect the Campus Safety Commission to have an easy road ahead, but she is pleased that the university is taking steps towards progress.
“I’m glad that (Interim Chancellor Guskiewicz) is talking to the students and talking to people that are actually affected by these issues,” White said.
“A lot of times they’ll talk around groups and not actually communicate with the people who it’s affecting, and then try to make these decisions that they are going to help and they don’t have any knowledge about what our experience actually is. I think the fact that he’s doing that is pushing things in the direction they need to be going.”
She also praised the Commission for including a young activist in Drew and former student body vice president Emily Blackburn.
Vice Chancellor Joel Curran said Guskiewicz also asked an outside security consultant to review recent public safety incidents.
“We have heard the concerns about the ways UNC Police have handled recent campus demonstrations and public safety events, and we are addressing them,” Curran said. “We welcome the voices of everyone on our campus to share their experiences and make recommendations.”
Students concluded their rally with a march from Wilson Library to South Building. One of the protesters broke a window after finding the doors to the building locked.