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The Daily Tar Heel

Demonstrator safety threatened

Tim Osborn, physics graduate student, was one of many community members to spend the night of Aug 24 at the monument.

Tim Osborn, physics graduate student, was one of many community members to spend the night of Aug 24 at the monument.

A UNC football fan yelled “I will kill him. He will be done.” Three men threatened to bring their guns to campus. Two students found a tiki torch attached to a note with magazine letters cut out to say “see you soon” at the Old Well. 

These are the threats Silent Sam protesters have faced.

“It gets difficult,” said Lindsay Ayling, a history Ph.D. candidate who organizes outreach efforts to educate people on Silent Sam. “It adds up after a while. After we have some particularly racist conversations, it’s difficult to sleep sometimes because you keep replaying them and thinking, ‘What could you have said to convince that person to be less racist?’ The awfulness of their ideas get to you.”

But when protesters experience a death threat, Ayling said that awfulness becomes more real.

During the UNC vs. Duke football game, a fan, while walking through McCorkle Place, threatened to kill a protester.

“The atmosphere was very hostile, which it always is on game days, but I was called a bitch by several people,” Maya Little, history Ph.D. candidate, said. “People made comments about my weight. There was a man walking with his family. He was shouting and as he passed by me, I asked him if he would like more information about Silent Sam. He got into my face and made monkey noises at me, which was very racist.”

Senior Mario Benavente said that’s when he stepped in to confront the man.

“There were definitely strong-worded insulting things I was saying to him to draw the attention to me,” Benavente said. “It was your typical shouting match, if you will. He was trying to do the chest bumps, trying to get someone to throw the first punch.”

Ayling said she then stepped in between the two men to prevent the fight from becoming physical.

“The man just kept stepping closer to me and he pressed his full body against mine, so that I was crushed between him and Mario,” she said. “This person was about three times my bodyweight. I felt violated … As the guy was leaving, that’s when he said, pointing to Mario, ‘I will kill him. He will be done.’”

The incident was captured on video. Three days later, during the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee meeting, the protesters showed the video to Derek Kemp, associate vice chancellor for campus safety and risk management. 

After showing Kemp the video, Little said the solution given was to increase police presence at the monument. 

“The issue with that is, at this point, I just feel almost harassed by the police," Little said. "They’ve known about a lot of these incidents of us being threatened and harassed, so I’m not sure what upping police presence would do.”

For Benavente, this incident wasn’t the only time he was threatened with violence.

Benavante said during the protester’s 24-hour sit-in in August, he was approached by three men threatening to bring their guns to Silent Sam. He said the men, who were not students at the University, were noticeably drunk.

“I’m sure a lot of what they were saying was just them running their mouths,” he said. “But at the same time, threats were made."

Benavante said the three men did not come back with their guns, but he was scared. 

“There’s very much still this element of radical people who are willing to say very plainly what they wish they could do to us or what they want to do to us or we should be afraid of what they’re going to do to us,” he said.

During the same 24-hour sit-in, Ayling said the protesters received another threat.

“It was a Sunday morning, two people from the demonstration came back and they told me they found a tiki torch planted in the Old Well," Ayling said. "On it, there was a note card that had letters cut out of a magazine, serial killer-style, and it said ‘see you soon."

Ayling said she reported the incident to the police and they took the tiki torch and note into evidence. Later, on Twitter, Ayling said a group called ‘You Will Not Replace Us’ hinted that they were responsible for the tiki torch. 

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Randy Young, media relations manager for UNC Public Safety, declined to comment on the importance of protester safety, but wished to echo Chancellor Carol Folt’s remarks during the September Board of Trustees meeting.

At the meeting, Folt said she is aware of the increased tension and confrontation that has erupted from Silent Sam, which resulted in her decision to increase police presence at the statue.

“I do believe as long as Silent Sam stands in its current location, it runs the risk of continuing to drain energy and goodwill that we work so hard to maintain on our campus and (it) truly does distract us from reaching the important goals that we all share,” she said.

Little said the constant police presence does not make her feel safer. She said she invites the police to hand out fliers with other protesters to really understand what the protesters experience.

“They don’t have to wear their uniforms,” she said. “I feel like they’re so far removed from it. I can see that from the fact that no one stopped that man from threatening my friend. When he pushed himself up against my friend Lindsay, when he racially harassed me — nothing was said to him.”

Little said the threats she receives will not stop her from legally protesting Silent Sam. She said protesters will be handing out fliers during the game on Saturday, and she invites anyone interested to join.

“People say ‘oh, it’s just a statue,” she said. “But it’s not just a statue. What it represents is this idea that students of color shouldn’t be on this campus. It represents this intimidation and historical violence toward black communities. It represents erasing history and saying the Confederacy was about state’s rights, when it was about slavery. It’s so much bigger than just a statue.”