The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Tuesday June 6th

Students walked out of class to protest police brutality. Here’s what happened

Students and activists gathered outside the Wilson Library at UNC-Chapel Hill on Wednesday, April 24, 2019. The activists protested UNC police and the University's treatment of student activists before and after the fall of Silent Sam. Various speakers discussed their personal experiences on campus and their interactions with police.
Buy Photos Students and activists gathered outside the Wilson Library at UNC-Chapel Hill on Wednesday, April 24, 2019. The activists protested UNC police and the University's treatment of student activists before and after the fall of Silent Sam. Various speakers discussed their personal experiences on campus and their interactions with police.

A sea of demonstrators on the stairs of Wilson Library, chanting and sporting signs expressing their dissatisfaction with UNC Police is the sight that met students who walked through Polk Place Wednesday afternoon.  

Demonstrators gathered on the steps of Wilson at 1:30 p.m. for a demonstration against police brutality. Lindsay Ayling, a graduate student in the Department of History and an organizer of the event, explained why the protest was necessary.

“Pretty much the entire year, police have been brutal to anti-racists while protecting white supremacists,” Ayling said.

Those who gathered began chanting, echoing shouts including, “Who do you serve? Who do you protect,” “Ain’t no power like the power of the people ‘cause the power of the people don’t stop” and “Cops and Klan go hand-in-hand.” 

Following a performance by the Raging Grannies, who sang an original song to express their support for UNC students’ safety, several speakers came to the front to address the crowd. Speakers included a student from the Lumbee tribe who came to give a land acknowledgment, students who expressed dissatisfaction with the way they were personally treated after reporting police violence and students from various campus organizations.

Cortland Gilliam, a doctoral student in the School of Education, began his speech by thanking those who had gathered for their decision to act and show solidarity. 

Gilliam said he had been offered a position on the Campus Safety Commission and declined the offer twice, citing quotes from the invitation that seemed untrue to him. He expressed doubt that a top priority of the University is to ensure the safety of the campus, unlike the invitation had stated.

“This rhetoric of safety implies that there is something here to be protected,” Gilliam said. “But I ask, if not students and staff and faculty, who have sacrificed blood, sweat, tears, time and energy on countless occasions in attempt to make this place more bearable for folks of color and other marginalized and maligned groups, who or what is this institution protecting? The answer is as apparent now as it has always been: whiteness and white supremacy.”

Gilliam continued by calling into question what is deemed as safe by the police. 

“We can no longer allow police to define what it means to be safe,” Gilliam said. “Not on this campus, not in our communities or elsewhere. Not when security and safety requires violence and false charges against anti-racist students and an allegiance to the very culture that invalidates the histories of racial violence and subjugation that these students are aiming to bring to light.”

Tamia Sanders, co-chairperson for UNC Black Congress, gave a speech about her experience as a Black woman on campus, amidst all of the protesting that has occurred at the University.

“I did not see enough administration emails which address what this environment does to the Black student emotionally and mentally,” Sanders said. “It is its own form of torture, of violence. I am tired of having to fight for my humanity. I am tired of living a lie, seeing white supremacists equate their stature to the enslaved Black people that built this campus.”

A board member of Black Congress, De’Ivyion Drew, spoke, acknowledging police treatment of the protests around Silent Sam and the history of the University.

“This University was built off of the blood, sweat and tears of Black enslaved people, who were regarded as property instead of human beings,” Drew said. “The police system, otherwise known as ‘slave patrols’ at the time, was created to protect and serve the interest of property and the rights of owners over their property. To this day, a bronze statue honoring a person who has never existed is more worthy to protect and serve than human life and wellbeing of students in their home community.”

Drew, one of three undergraduate students who will serve on the Campus Safety Commission, shared her stance that “The UNC police apparatus should be abolished.” She called for the administration to advocate for all charges against anti-racist demonstrators to be dropped and that the UNC-system Board of Governors’ free speech policy, passed last December, be repealed. 

Ayling then reminded the crowd of the events of the "Nazis Suck Potluck" that was held last September, during which she said the police acted violently toward the students protesting in order to protect white supremacists. She then announced that the protest would be marching over to South Building to express their demands.

She said there was another demonstration held in response to the potluck, during which the University locked the doors of South Building.

“Our administrators, who supposedly now want dialogue, didn’t listen to us then,” Ayling said. “And they actually barred the doors to South Building. They locked us out and prevented us from delivering our demands, so we’re gonna try this again.” 

Demonstrators marched in a large group, chanting as they headed toward South Building. When they arrived, they found that the doors were locked. One of the demonstrators broke a window after pounding on it. 

One student announced the demands to the crowd, who repeated them back. These demands included to cease harassing and arbitrarily arresting anti-racist protesters, stop coordinating with white supremacists, lift the “no trespass” orders against anti-racist protesters, stop police brutality and excessive force, stop inviting outside police agencies onto campus and allow community-based investigation and accountability regarding collaboration between the police and white supremacists.

After not being able to enter the building, the demonstrators walked down Cameron Avenue to disrupt traffic. They then returned to South Building and attempted to enter the accessibility entrance, which they found to be locked as well.

The protest ended after those gathered joined hands and formed a circle, continuing to chant about the brutality that they have seen from UNC Police. 

The DTH received a statement from Joel Curran, vice chancellor for University Communications, who said that the University has heard the concerns that students have expressed and is working to address them. 

“We value and support free speech and civil discourse as we work to strengthen the relationship between the police and the community,” Curran said. “However, breaking windows does not represent these values. It endangers the safety of people and is not acceptable. We are grateful no one was injured.”


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