An Orange County District judge found UNC graduate student Maya Little guilty of defacing Silent Sam after a day-long trial Monday. She will not have to pay court costs or restitution.
Little was charged with a misdemeanor of defacing a public statue or monument after she poured red paint and her own blood on the monument on April 30.
Her trial was presided by District Court Judge Samantha Cabe. Little was represented by attorney Scott Holmes, who has also represented those charged in the toppling of Silent Sam and other social movements free of charge as part of his private practice.
Cabe allowed permission to quash the defense’s subpoenas for Chancellor Carol Folt and UNC Police Chief Jeff McCracken, exempting them from having to testify for the defense. She argued while the two are not in such high-ranking positions to be immune to testifying, the subpoenas were not issued with enough notice.
Among the prosecution’s witnesses were a UNC police officer in charge of body cameras, the UNC police officer who arrested Little and the supervisor of the maintenance shop that cleaned Silent Sam for the estimated cost of $4,048.47. The State also showed the body camera footage as evidence.
“Hey hey, ho ho, this racist statue’s got to go!” Little chanted in the footage played in the court.
Holmes moved to dismiss the charges against Little, and argued the statute Little was charged under is too vague. Cabe denied the defense’s motions to dismiss charges without explanation.
The witnesses for the defense included Valerie Johnson, chairperson of the North Carolina African American Heritage Commission; Pam Hemminger, mayor of Chapel Hill; Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue; UNC professor Kenneth Janken; UNC Campus Y Co-President Alli Whitenack and UNC senior and student activist Mistyre Bonds.
Hemminger expressed concern about another Charlottesville-type incident taking place if Silent Sam is returned and said the monument created a public safety issue.
“We’re hopeful that the University will be able to place the statue somewhere else and contextualize it and not have it go back to the same place where it causes more incidents,” Hemminger told The Daily Tar Heel after leaving the courtroom. “We didn’t do the arresting, so that’s up to the University and the trial to figure out the answers to these particular situations.”
Little was the final witness for defense, after Cabe said she didn’t want to hear any more testimony along the same lines from activists at UNC. Little spoke about the amount of work she’s done to advocate for Silent Sam’s removal and said her duty as a history student at UNC requires her to act for public history.
“The Orange County court system must also reckon with the Black blood that stains it,” Little read in a statement to the court. "Justice may not be found in this courthouse, but it can be found in community we have built when the police, University and laws failed us.”
In his closing statements, Holmes said the court should find Little did not violate the law, but that if she did violate the law, was justified in doing so. Holmes compared her to the Friendship Nine civil rights activists whose charges were vacated by the District Attorney on the grounds that their actions were more consistent with the Constitution than they were criminal.
“One person’s defacement is another person’s improvement,” Holmes said.
The prosecutor said he hopes Silent Sam isn’t put back up, and said he respects Little. However, he said she knew what she was doing and continued her offenses after being asked to stop.
“She was not legally justified to impose her views on other people,” he said.
Cabe returned from recess to announce the verdict and said she walked back in the courtroom unsure of what to do in the case. She ultimately found Little guilty but granted a prayer for judgement continued, which means while Little was found guilty, she has no technical conviction.
Outside the courtroom, Holmes told reporters this decision cannot be appealed.
Little told The Daily Tar Heel while she is happy there was no judgement against her, a complete win against white supremacy would have been dropped charges. She said if the prosecutor claims to respect the movement against white supremacy, charges against all the other anti-racist activists who were arrested should be dropped, and charges should be filed against the people who have maintained white supremacy at UNC.
“I’m going to continue fighting white supremacy at UNC, and Silent Sam was one facet of that, and he’s gone – thank God for that,” Little said. “But there’s still so many facets of white supremacy at UNC, and meager apologies for slavery by a chancellor who maintained a white supremacist monument for $400,000 a year is never going to be enough.”
Preston Lennon, Payne Lubbers and Suzanne Blake contributed reporting.
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