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Faculty sign letter in support of student activists arrested in Pittsboro protests

A Confederate monument stands Wednesday afternoon, Oct. 30, 2019, in front of Chatham County Courthouse in Pittsboro. On Monday, Oct. 28, 2019, a superior court judge halted the plans for its removal.

UNC faculty members across academic departments signed a letter in support of student safety, responding to the recent arrest of University graduate students involved in a protest against a Confederate monument in Pittsboro. 

Students said they were attacked by Confederate monument supporters while protesting Pittsboro's Confederate statue on Nov. 16. According to the letter, some of the statue's supporters are believed to belong to the League of the South, a neo-Confederate group.  

The letter said Pittsboro Police arrested both student activists and Confederate monument supporters. The letter said one of the Confederate monument supporters was released on a written promise to appear in court, and a UNC student was assigned a $10,000 court bond. 

“To be sure, violence is not an acceptable way to resolve conflict,” the faculty letter said, “but self-defense is not a crime. We are concerned that the police appear to have arrested victims of a crime while overlooking the perpetrators of criminal activity.”

Among the authors of the letter was Malinda Maynor Lowery, professor and director of the Center for the Study of the American South. She said that she and her fellow faculty members have been closely observing the events as reported in the news — on Twitter, local media and by hearing eyewitness reports. 

She said she noticed a discrepancy in the charges between student activists and Confederate monument supporters. The counter-protesters attacked the students, she said, but the police were more interested in politics. 

The mission of the letter, she said, is to express concern for the police and the student protesters. 

The Pittsboro Police Department referred request for comment to the Department of Corrections. The representative at the referred number declined to comment.

The letter was released just over a week before the University announced its $2.5 million settlement with the Sons of Confederate Veterans regarding the Silent Sam statue. The monument was removed from McCorkle Place in 2018 and has been held in an undisclosed location. 

The N.C. Division Sons of Confederate Veterans will receive possession of the statue along with the trust for its care and preservation, which will come from a non-state fund. 

History professor William Sturkey was not on the initial signing list for the faculty letter, but has decided to add his name. He said that he has seen these contentious events happen before, and it's frustrating that the community hasn’t done more for the situation. 

“It’s important to support our students in the wake of the treatment that they are receiving for their activism,” he said. 

The faculty involved said they are concerned about the precedent that the Chatham County arrests set for local law enforcement and its challenge to equal protections under the law. They said the events were reminiscent of previous historical instances in which police complied with attackers of nonviolent demonstrators. Currently, there are 19 faculty signatures on the letter.

Lowrey said the Nov. 16 events highlight an issue that the University community needs to be aware of — even if it’s not happening on campus. 

The staff letter asked readers to support the students' fight against white supremacy and consider donating toward their legal fees. “The Anti-Racist Activist Fund,” organized by Sacred Fire Unitarian Universalist and Mutual Aid Carrboro, has raised $31,158 so far to support local anti-racist efforts in the past year. 

“Forces of hate that were putting so much pressure on the University to keep the statue are still in the area,” Lowery said. 


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