Throughout the Silent Sam saga, student activists and the UNC administration have often been at odds. Following an incident of an armed demonstrator on campus, the role of campus police is under question, too.
In a letter addressed to interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz, a group known as Defend UNC called for the disarmament or disbandment of UNC Police. The message came in response to the March 16 event, in which campus police only gave a warning to pro-Confederate demonstrators openly carrying firearms on UNC's campus, which is a felony in North Carolina.
“Campus officers have the ability to use deadly force, which is in direct opposition to the pedagogical objectives of our community, and have shown an escalation pattern of police violence consistent with a near future use of deadly force against non-violent student activists,” the letter said.
Lindsay Ayling, an activist and history graduate student, said she has noticed a difference in the way extremist groups and non-violent anti-racist activists are treated by the police.
Ayling said she thinks that because white supremacists regularly visit campus, and they are greeted with cordiality and handshakes from UNC Police, UNC is not a safe place.
“When we’re at rallies, I sometimes worry more about the threat of violence from the police than I do from the white supremacists,” Ayling said.
A statement from the University two days after the incident explained why the armed demonstrators were not given criminal charges and said that moving forward, the possession of a firearm on campus will not be tolerated.
“Due to immediate uncertainty on Saturday about the application of these laws to the Cameron Avenue right of way, which is maintained by the Town of Chapel Hill, no arrest was made in this case,” the statement said.
The Defend UNC letter demands a full retraction of the statement and an apology that acknowledges the fault of the statement.
The letter was not signed by a list of names, but states Calvin Deutschbein, a fourth-year graduate student in the computer science department, as the point of contact. Deutschbein said that Defend UNC is not a membership organization but has a social media presence that he follows. Their Facebook page describes the group as combating institutional racism at UNC-Chapel Hill.
A second University statement, sent in an email six days after the incident, outlines three actions that Guskiewicz says he is taking to handle future events consistently and in a manner that reflects the community’s values.
The statement said he will convene a campus safety commission to engage in dialogue about community safety, meet with campus groups to discuss how the community envisions work to end racism and inequality on campus and initiate a review of the incident with a forthcoming assessment team.
When asked for comment about Defend UNC's letter, UNC Media Relations said in an email to The Daily Tar Heel that Guskiewicz has already begun work on the planned actions, including a "listening and learning tour" to hear directly from campus groups.
Though neither Ayling nor Deutschbein anticipate a response to the Defend UNC letter, they said they aim for accountability of the interim chancellor.
“The administration has a powerful platform from which to spin their narrative, and they often use PR statements to diminish the threat posed by white supremacists,” Ayling said. “They also are very clearly trying to create the appearance of progress through the false promise of dialogue and avoid holding police accountable for their actions, and so we wrote a letter because we wanted a chance to respond and explain why the chancellor’s response is completely inadequate and also dishonest in many ways.”
Deutschbein similarly said he is frustrated with the interim chancellor’s lack of awareness about the level of violence sustained in his actions.
“As a campus community, we have to keep each other safe,” Deutschbein said. “The police do not do that. The administration does not do that, and I think we’re doing a pretty good job given the circumstances.”
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