Students, Chapel Hill residents and activists gathered at South Building’s steps late Friday afternoon for a rally protesting the events of March 16, when Confederate supporters walked through UNC’s campus carrying firearms.
According to North Carolina law, carrying a firearm on educational property is a felony. Although the protesters on March 16 were intercepted by UNC Police, no arrests were made.
While some of the outrage expressed during the rally was directed at the Confederate group and their actions on Saturday, the rally also focused on the way UNC Police handled the situation.
"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 University said in a statement released Monday.
First-year graduate student Elizabeth Godown said that UNC Police failed to enforce the law.
“When there is a law or policy being blatantly broken in front of (UNC Police), then they should do what is prescribed by that law,” Godown said. “As this event points out, they have been very willing to excessively apply policies to anti-racist demonstrators.”
The event, which was organized the by the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP, featured speakers ranging from UNC students, to community members, to President of North Carolina’s NAACP, Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman.
Activists who spoke at the rally expressed the belief that UNC Police chose not to use the law to combat Confederate supporters, yet enforce the law to fullest extent against student activists. Speakers pointed to various instances of students being arrested during this school year, such as those arrested at a Sept. 8 anti-Silent Sam protest, as examples of the police abusing authority and arresting student protesters for arbitrary crimes.
President of the Chapel-Hill Carrboro NAACP Anna Richards also said that UNC Police treated the pro-Confederate group differently than the student counter-protesters, citing a Sept. 8 protest, when police officers confiscated cans being collected by student activists during a food drive, claiming that the cans could be potentially used as weapons. Richards said she doesn’t understand how UNC Police decided to confiscate cans, yet refused to arrest pro-Confederate sympathizers who broke the law by openly carrying a gun on campus.
In an email sent to the University community Friday afternoon, Interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said the March 16 incident is under review and that any individuals possessing weapons on campus in the future will be arrested and issued a warning of trespass.
Although Silent Sam is no longer physically present on campus, the Confederate monument continues to influence campus events. Activist and Hillsborough resident Heather Redding said that pro-Confederate groups return to campus to spite the University and its students for removing the statue.
“They’re trying to harass students by bringing their Confederate flags onto campus. They are trying to punish students. They are trying to punish the administration. They are trying to punish the police, too, by continued presence here,” Redding said. “And I know they want Silent Sam restored to its original location.”
Redding said it is crucial for UNC students to attend rallies by non-University affiliated groups. It is important for the student body and organizations such as the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP to collaborate, as large-scale change needs large-scale participation, Redding said.
Godown also believes in the importance of student participation in rallies of this nature.
“I think it’s extremely important, because we should always be educating ourselves about the spaces that we are occupying, about the communities that we are living in,” she said.
The Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP is there to stand by students in their fight against pro-Confederate groups, Richards said.
“It's important that students on campus know that the Town cares about their safety, and that they are part of the community," Richards said. “Those same people who were walking around here with weapons could have just as easily walked out on Franklin Street, so there’s no separation between the students here and their rights and the rights of citizens of Chapel Hill.”
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