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Silent Sam spray-painted again with message of racial protest


The Silent Sam memorial statue on UNC's McCorkle Place was spray-painted with the phrase "Who is Sandra Bland?" sometime in between late Monday night and the start of classes Tuesday morning. 

The latest tagging of the statue's base comes on the heels of a July 5 incident in which the phrases "Black lives matter," "KKK" and "murderer" were emblazoned on the monument, which honors the Confederate soldiers from North Carolina who fought in the Civil War. The University responded quickly to that incident, covering it up with a white cloth until it could be struck from the base.

This morning's graffiti refers to Sandra Bland, a black woman who was found dead in police custody in Texas July 13. She's one of a number of unarmed African-Americans to have recently died in police custody, spurring protests and responses from activists across the nation.

Lance Barnes, a baker at Rams Head Dining Hall who walked by the statue this morning, appeared unfazed by the graffiti.

"I'm not shocked, really, to be honest with you, because he has a background that deals with racism," said Barnes, who is black. "You can't move on from racism if you keep going back to the past for it."

"I'm just surprised that — I thought with all the security that we had around here, that they would've seen who did this, but they didn't. But it makes a point."

Thomas Alexander, a senior English and economics double-major who is white, echoed Barnes sentiments of the power of the statement after also passing by the statue: "It's a lot of sort-of built-up tension that's maybe not being expressed in the way that some people want it to be expressed, but in the way that it does needs to be expressed."

Even if the University acts quickly to remove this latest spray painting, Barnes thinks they'll be dealing with another incident soon enough.

"I think it's going to keep happening until they take it down," he said.

A Department of Public Safety spokesman did not immediately return phone calls and messages requesting the department’s response this morning.

Student Body President Houston Summers said in a phone call that he was informed of the incident this morning directly by Carol Folt at the athletic breakfast event the two were attending. Summers said he didn’t want to describe Folt’s reaction on her behalf.

“My immediate reaction was, ‘Man, well this stinks,’” Summers said, adding that the spray-painting was completely understandable.

“I’m not saying that students should go around spray-painting things as an expression of their concerns, but at same time, it’s a manifestation of a failure on our part to provide enough substantial areas for conversation,” he said.

When asked whether the memorial should come down, Summers hedged his answer, saying the issue is as complex as the renaming of Saunders Hall.

“I think we would be remiss to make a decision that quickly. It’s very important that we holistically look at this issue and support every student involved,” he said. “It takes a little more time than ‘rip it down’ or ‘keep it up.’”

Summers insisted that he wasn’t afraid to give a straight answer, but rather that there is no straight answer to give immediately.

“The core of the response is mercy and grace and forgiveness and understanding that these are difficult issues,” he said. “Sometimes our students don’t know how to go about expressing those things, so it’s a matter of saying, ‘Please, let’s talk about it.’"

Shortly after 10 a.m., University spokesman Jim Gregory offered a response on behalf of the school.

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“Over the past few days, hundreds of faculty, staff and members of the Carolina community have come together to welcome first-year and returning students,” the statement said.

In line with Summers’ stance, the statement went on to emphasize the importance of frank discussion, while condemning the act itself, which it called vandalism: “This is what Carolina is all about, and this includes our commitment to free speech and open dialogue on all issues, no matter how emotional and at times painful. Vandalism like this is unfortunate because it is the antithesis of open discussion and the traditions and principles for which the University stands.”