It’s 9:30 pm, Tuesday evening. For the past two-and-a-half hours I’ve been watching the live WRAL.com video feed of students and activists from UNC Chapel Hill calling for the removal of landmark campus statue, Silent Sam. The statue, erected on the campus in 1913 to memorialize alumnae on both sides who fought in the war and students who fought in the Confederacy, has been criticized by campus groups for encouraging racism.
But let’s talk about the rally. The rally started at 7 pm. By 7:45 pm, the crowd was already dissipating, some to march down Franklin St., others went off into the night.
Why WRAL.com is still broadcasting a live feed two hours after an event essentially ended is a good question. Maybe the protestors are waiting for the police leave and for the barricades to come down. Maybe WRAL.com really, really, really is hoping that something happens. Honestly, it’s hard to believe how any TV executive would deem any of the last 90 minutes newsworthy. (It sounds like things picked up later in the evening as protestors and started pounding on a police car)
Still the video does allow you to make a number of observations:
A strong police presence was clearly visible. I’d estimate maybe 200 protestors from the camera shot around the statue, and I could clearly see 15-20 officers inside a police barricade; not to mention those outside the camera shot. Police also erected barricades to keep people a safe distance away from the monument. Viewers can also hear a police helicopter hovering about throughout the rally.
Clearly the police were prepared.
Another thing you notice is that there seemed to be as many observers as participants. Cameras and by-standers were everywhere. It makes you wonder was this a rally, event, or spectacle?
The rally had numerous speakers. But they didn’t speak. They ranted. They ranted against Silent Sam. They ranted against Chancellor Carol Folt. They ranted against white people. And the rants were filled with expletives.
“1,2,3, f**k the Confederacy; 4,5,6 f**k the Confederacy,” “Where the f**k is Carol Folt” and “F**k white supremacy”
If you were looking for a strong arguments, you didn’t find them.
Chancellor Carol Folt earned the scorn of protestors earlier in the day for saying that short of the statue endangering the physical safety of those at the University, the university doesn’t have the power to remove Silent Sam. Earlier in the week Gov. Roy Cooper said UNC could remove the statue if it merely provoking the threat of physical harm to others. Obviously, Gov. Cooper had a far more expansive interpretation than the UNC.
The video also seemed to make clear that UNC was determined to avoid what happened in Durham last week.
There, an unruly mob toppled a confederate statue in downtown Durham. Across town at Duke University administrators are still trying to identify the individual or individuals who vandalized a statue of confederate General Robert E. Lee in Duke Chapel last week. A statue the university removed from the chapel a day later.
It is more than interesting to me that no one seems to know who planned the rally. If that’s the case, that’s significant. If there is no campus organization behind the event, it may indicate – that aside from the activists — there really is no groundswell of support pushing for the removal of the statue. That’s a view that’s been steadily emerging from various national and local press accounts that say many of the recent protest rallies haven’t been led by college students but by members of far-left organizations skilled in lathering up left-leaning college students.
Whether you agree with the knee jerk policy of removing all confederate statues, you have to agree the support of Gov. Roy Cooper and Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger has accelerated the mayhem.
Are the statues the real threat? Silent Sam has been standing for over one-hundred years. Let’s be clear: the statue and what it represents is not the threat. The real threat is the mob mentality that inevitably takes over such events and short circuits democracy.
How to proceed in the aftermath of Charlottesville is a tricky question. No one condones or encourages racism. Neither do we encourage the knee-jerk response of removing confederate statues and attempting to erase history. Statues have already been removed in many places for years. Doing so only seems to validate that doing such is no antidote for racism.
What happened – or didn’t happen – tonight in Chapel Hill was instructive.
Things were orderly. No chaos broke out. About 9 pm protestors started leaning on and moving steel barricades only to be quickly met by about 10 uniform police officers with masks. The mischief ended. Fences, combined with a large effective and civil police presence, seemed to work.
Whoever made the decisions to increase the police presence should be applauded. We should also be thankful that Gov. Cooper and Mayor Hemminge weren’t in charge. Removing a statue only emboldens the mob and guarantees they will be back for more. It merely distorts history and does nothing to reduce racism.
For tonight at least Silent Sam was safe. What happens when the police leave and fences are removed may be another story.