A rally sponsored by UNC Black Student Movement and Black Congress on Thursday to protest the UNC System’s $2.5 million Silent Sam settlement ended in a verbal disagreement between student activists and Police Chief David L. Perry about his interactions with students.
Campus Safety Commission member De’Ivyion Drew said Perry should attend more Campus Safety Commission meetings to better understand student concerns, while Perry said he has made an effort to attend when possible.
“We’re making decisions about your department and the Chapel Hill department, and you are not there,” Drew said.
She also brought up concerns including a lack of officers of color at a recent police forum and the failure of Alert Carolina to notify students about white supremacists on campus.
Students told Perry he should not have approached the group as he did, on his Segway. They said he spoke over student activists after he approached them.
“Your demeanor and your posture says a lot,” one student said. “You are a police officer. You already have a certain status that is scary, that is threatening, that is intimidating.”
Perry said he came over to the group to talk with BSM President Chris Suggs, who spoke earlier in the rally about Perry’s attendance of a BSM event, which Suggs said made him uncomfortable.
During Suggs’ speech, he said that as a young Black male, he gets uncomfortable around police despite having several officers in his family. Suggs said he works closely with his local police to build relationships between community members and officers, and to hold them accountable.
Suggs said last week, Perry came to an event hosted by BSM that was meant to be a safe space for Black males on campus to talk about their issues and experiences. Suggs also said he had not seen Perry interacting with students much at the protest. He said Perry’s role as an administrator and police officer makes it necessary for him to talk to student protesters and make sure they are not uncomfortable. He pointed out Perry to the crowd and asked him to wave.
“I really just wanted to point out the fact that our University’s top cop is here in our presence, because it made me a little bit uncomfortable last week, it may be a little bit uncomfortable today to see police officers here, really just standing in the way, looking at us and not really interacting,” Suggs said. “Chief Perry, good to see you.”
“It’s your event,” Perry responded. “I’m just here to support you.”
Perry told The Daily Tar Heel that he’s been to several free speech events and community forums, so Thursday’s rally was part of his normal attendance to support students and employees, and make sure they have a safe environment.
“I’m not here to be part of the spectacle," he said. “I’m not here to speak on any point. I’m just here to be a visible presence to make sure that everyone is in a safe environment. That’s it.”
The rally was organized in response to the UNC System giving Silent Sam to the Sons of Confederate Veterans and setting up a $2.5 million trust for its preservation.
Tajahn Wilson came to the rally as a part of Black Congress. He said he was shocked and angered by the settlement, as well as interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz’s response to it.
Guskiewicz sent a campus-wide email after the decision was released, showing appreciation for the Board of Governors members who helped with the agreement and emphasizing that the monument can never return to campus under the rules of the settlement.
Keoana Nettles, secretary of BSM, said she does not think the University will realistically go back on its decision regarding Silent Sam. But uniting with other groups, she said, is meant to show UNC that activists will not “let these things go.”
“Just because the statue isn’t here doesn’t mean the history isn’t here, and the University’s decision to give this much money to fund it is just its legacy,” Nettles said.
The rally began with remarks from the organizers, who then led the crowd in a march toward South Building. Once they reached the stairs of the building, more people chanted and spoke on the stairs.
One speaker was a member of UNC’s band, who said former Chancellor Carol Folt threatened the band director’s job when students knelt during a football game.
Student Body President Ashton Martin also stood on the steps to speak about the settlement. She brought up a meeting she was “summoned into” in South Building on Tuesday. The meeting was on Dec. 3, she said, the one-year anniversary of students protesting Folt’s proposed $5.3 million plan for Silent Sam.
“I can’t believe it’s a year later and we’re still doing this,” Martin said.
She thanked everyone for coming to demonstrate during finals and invited everyone to share their thoughts with her about what a “plan forward” should look like.
“I don’t know where we go now,” Martin said. “But I’m excited to see where we can go because I don’t agree with this plan. It’s bullshit.”
Multiple protesters brought up the timeline of the settlement decision, which was released while students were on Thanksgiving break. Students said the decision was released when they were not on campus as an attempt to silence their voices. Additionally, students expressed dissatisfaction with the $2.5 million going to the SCV, when it could be financing students or faculty.
Senior Tamia Sanders said Black Congress is asking alumni and community members to stop donating to UNC unless specifically donating toward the advancement of marginalized people on campus.
“A university that invests in white supremacy is not a university that deserves your money,” Sanders said.
The rally ended with protesters forming a half circle and chanting in unison as a call and response:
“It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”