Moments before her Honor Court trial, UNC graduate student Maya Little spoke into a microphone, as a crowd of students and community members listened and held flowers.
Little stood next to handmade posters and signs made in remembrance of James Lewis Cates, a Black student stabbed to death in the Pit in 1970 by members of a white supremacist biker gang. Participants snapped and stomped in support of her criticisms of the University’s actions following the toppling of Silent Sam.
Participants gathered Thursday afternoon between the Pit and Lenoir Dining Hall for a rally to memorialize Cates and support Little preceding her trial for charges of defacement of a public monument. Little was arrested for painting Silent Sam with her own blood and red paint on April 30.
On Oct. 15, she was found guilty by an Orange County District judge for defacing a public statue. She will not be required to pay court costs or restitution.
Little gave the history of James Cates and challenged local police and prosecutors whom she believes embody the white moderate. She also talked about the responsibility to practice civil disobedience in the face of systemic racism.
“When what is regarded as the law is destructive to black lives, to our dignity, to our community, as it so often has been in this country and in this town, we have a responsibility to disobey the law,” Little said.
Dawna Jones, the chairperson of the Carolina Black Caucus, attended the rally. She voiced her opinion on Little's criminal verdict.
“I don’t know that justice was served, but I don’t know that it could have been,” she said.
Calvin Deutschbein, a graduate research assistant, said the Honor Court does not have jurisdiction over Little’s actions.
“The Honor Court is ostensibly part of student self-governance,” he said. “We’re here. We’re students. We disagree with the understanding of the Honor Court, demonstrated by Courtney Bain, the graduate and professional school student attorney general, so we want her to know that. We want Maya to know that and feel supported as well.”
Participants laid their flowers in the Pit in front of a poster reading “Rest in Power, James Cates,” which contained photos of him and information about his death.
Kimathi Muiruri, a UNC student studying geography, attended the rally to learn more about how Cates’ story relates to Little’s trial and the continuing narrative of racial inequality on campus. As an international student, he did not attend Silent Sam protests for fear of losing his visa, but still wanted to support Little and honor Cates.
“I don’t think there’s anything that can be construed as wrong for remembering something that happened 30, 40 years ago of this nature,” he said. “I thought it would be a good way, a pretty uncontroversial way, to involve myself in the activism here on campus.”
Little led the crowd in chants of “Black lives matter here.” Behind them, Cody Gall sat wearing a Trump 2020 hat and chanted “I agree with you.”
“I have no problem with Silent Sam coming down. The only problem I have is in my home state that I was born and raised, violent mobs are going around pretending to be the victims,” Gall shouted over the crowd.
Several demonstrators approached Gall and made expletive-filled comments.
Once the rally concluded, participants were invited to attend Little’s public Honor Court trial in the Student Union.
In anticipation of the Honor Court’s questions, Little proposed some questions of her own.
“So I ask Chancellor Folt and the University: where are the memorials and monuments to James Cates?" Little asked. "Where are the memorials to the 25 students arrested in subsequent protests against Cates’ trial and against William Murphey’s death? Where are the monuments to the students who were threatened by the administration for wanting to change the name of a building named after a Ku Klux Klan member to Hurston Hall? When will we build those monuments?”
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.