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11 Anti-Silent Sam activists appear in court

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Anti-Silent Sam organizers and protesters packed the Chapel Hill Courthouse Tuesday morning to show solidarity with 11 of the individuals facing charges for crimes allegedly carried out during demonstrations at Silent Sam.

Inside the courthouse, many waited to enter and “pack the court” to support those with scheduled cases. The room quickly filled, and officials ushered attendees in and out of the courtroom throughout the morning.

Scott Holmes, a lawyer of the defendants and professor at the North Carolina Central University's School of Law, gave a brief statement to the courthouse after speaking to his clients.

“The real problem here is not these folks behind me, but the public nuisance of that symbol of the violent defense of human enslavement that sits on our campus, and that responsible leaders would understand at this point needs to come down," Holmes said.

Holmes announced the cases will be continued on Nov. 5, and another group of cases of protestors will be held on Oct. 18.

Outside, protestors gave speeches and offered free biscuits and doughnuts to attendees who waited for openings to sit in the court. In addition to serving breakfast, Defend UNC, the organization that arranged the event, set up a table in the Peace and Justice Plaza where attendees could write letters to political prisoners with birthdays during October.

UNC student activist and graduate teaching assistant Maya Little also spoke to the activists. 

“Thank you for again creating this community when the people in power have abandoned us,” Little said. 

Lindsay Ayling, a Ph.D. candidate in UNC’s history department and member of Defend UNC, helped to organize the event.  

“I think it’s important to show that the UNC community stands behind anti-racist defendants,” Ayling said.

With the event, which remained peaceful, Ayling also hopes to dispel the idea that Silent Sam protesters are violent outside agitators.

“Everyone has a stake in making an equal environment for all,” Ayling said. “People from Durham and Carrboro have just as much of a right to protest as anybody else.”

Around 40 people gathered outside the courthouse as the hearings proceeded inside. Ayling hopes this turnout will help convince the district attorney to rethink the decision to charge the individuals.

“I’m hoping to put pressure on public officials to drop the charges and also to send a message that we’re still united,” she said.

Toppling the statue should not be considered illegal, Ayling said, because of a federal law under the Civil Rights Act that prohibits racially hostile learning environments.

“When that statue came down, it brought UNC into compliance with federal law,” Ayling said. “If it was illegal to take it down, it was also illegal to have it up. Defendants shouldn’t face charges for making the school comply with federal law.”

26 people have been arrested since Silent Sam was toppled on Aug. 20.

Em McCray, a local resident, said they were glad to see how many people showed up to support the cause.

“I’m here to show solidarity for everyone,” they said. “It’s important to show that this kind of thing isn’t okay.”

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