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Tuesday January 31st

'Somebody is going to die': Community weighs in on police conduct at protests

<p>Police from across North Carolina quickly escort demonstrators from McCorkle Place after their scheduled demonstration on Saturday, September 8th.</p>
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Police from across North Carolina quickly escort demonstrators from McCorkle Place after their scheduled demonstration on Saturday, September 8th.

Students and community members expressed outrage Tuesday night over officers using pepper foggers, deploying smoke bombs and tackling protesters in recent demonstrations at McCorkle Place over Silent Sam. 

The Community Policing Advisory Committee heard several speakers who denounced police officers for escorting groups supporting the monument into campus, protecting them with impromptu bicycle barricades and providing a “safe space” inside a fenced area surrounding the monument’s pedestal. 

Established in 2011, the committee receives complaints pertaining to the Chapel Hill Police Department to investigate and share the findings with the town council. The nine-member board also reviews the Town’s police training and other regular practices. 

“I feel like the 800-pound gorilla here is UNC,” said Allan Chrisman, a member of the Committee. “We’ve been told Chapel Hill Police doesn’t have jurisdiction on campus.”

Since Aug. 20, when protesters toppled Silent Sam, UNC Police have arrested at least 26, including UNC Asian Studies professor Dwayne Dixon. The arrests have taken place over four different demonstrations centered around Silent Sam, where tensions have erupted between the groups

After nearly two hours of various attendants expressing concerns with police conduct, Committee member Tye Hunter said anyone who experiences problems with police can file a complaint.

A woman who did not give a name and left the meeting before she could be identified claimed to be a "survivor" of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, V.A. over a year ago, where hundreds of white supremacist protesters and counter-protesters clashed. The rally led to the death of counter-protester Heather Heyer.

The woman said that a month before Heyer’s death, she had been assaulted by police at a similar rally. She filed a complaint over the incident and a month later, she watched Heyer be hit by the car that killed her.

“For you to say that filing a complaint will do anything about police brutality, I just say, come to my town,” the woman said. “Come to Charlottesville and see what’s happened when we’ve trusted the police and trusted the government.”

Altha Cravey, a professor in the UNC Department of Geography, said she’s personally experienced police violence in the recent rallies. 

“We just can’t have this continued amping up of the oppressive policing," she said. "Somebody is going to die. I felt that every time I’ve been out there.” 

Samee Siddiqui, a UNC graduate student, said that the “arrogance” and “behavior of violence” by police toward Silent Sam protesters is nothing new, and has been going on for more than a year.

He said that attitude from police is part of the reason for the anti-Silent Sam movement including criticisms of the police. He also said he thinks police have used the movement’s criticism as reason to target and arrest protesters without physical provocation.

“When you come to our campus, I won’t have to like you, I won’t have to be nice to you, I can say things to you that I want,” Siddiqui said. “This is a right that I have on my campus when you come to my campus."

Jamie Paulen, an attorney and former magistrate for the Orange County court system, said she hasn’t been as involved with the movement against Silent Sam for as long as other community members. She said she has “never seen anything as horrific” as the police’s actions during a handful of arrests of demonstrators at Saturday’s rally.

“The people who are there being violent are the police themselves,” Paulen said. “It’s not the students in this room. The students in this room are doing what students have been doing for decades, and expressing their criticism of the institutions in our society.”



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