Many students expressed frustration with how the Chapel Hill Police Department handled the Feb. 6 Franklin Street rush, where approximately 1,000 people gathered — many without masks — after the UNC men's basketball team's win over Duke University.
And while the Town has refused requests for comment, an email between local officials reveals their preparations and anticipations ahead of the rush.
In a Monday press release, the Town said it was hopeful that students wouldn’t rush due to UNC encouraging students not to and because students didn’t gather on Franklin Street on Halloween. The Town added that planning efforts by Chapel Hill Police, Fire and Public Works departments allowed them to disperse the crowd within 30 minutes.
Ran Northam, interim communications manager for the Town, said in an email that the Town of Chapel Hill isn't further commenting beyond the press release.
But an email sent by Town Manager Maurice Jones to the Town Council on Feb. 8 contained a message from Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue about the event. Blue said in the email that the police department's plan focused on providing resources that would be necessary for street closures or traffic diversion if needed.
He said officers were on standby Saturday night for any potential post-game activity, and three UNC police officers were called in to help.
Blue said officers deployed with five minutes left in the game to monitor the situation, which confirms reports that police were on-site at the beginning of the event. Two minutes after the game ended, at approximately 8:17 p.m., a large crowd had gathered at the intersection of Columbia and Franklin, requiring those roads to be closed.
Blue said police staff began making announcements to clear the streets 25 minutes into the rush. He said the crowd complied with those announcements, and streets were able to be reopened to traffic at 8:52 p.m.
Blue also said one man was arrested for drunk and disruptive behavior, and for resisting officers. Arrest records confirm that he is a UNC student.
“Of course, the activity that we saw is concerning,” Blue wrote in the message.
But some students say they still want answers as to why the Town didn’t disperse the crowd sooner. Many say they think the response would have been different if the gathering was something like a Black Lives Matter or Silent Sam protest.
“I wish they could have stepped in sooner before any crowd even formed,” Rick Ramirez, a senior computer science major, said. “In the middle of a pandemic, if you see a bunch of college kids running to Franklin, you would assume that police would be capable of stepping in front of them and telling them to go home. They sure have no issue being aggressive to our students of color.”
The UNC Commission on Campus Equality & Student Equity expressed a similar sentiment in a statement posted to Twitter on Saturday night.
“...If this had been a BLM protest or a demonstration against the existence of racism within the University there would have been many safety plans in place and (UNC Police) and CHPD would have made a dozen arrests,” the statement read.
Blue said in the email that the early tipoff time for the game; capacity limitations for bars and restaurants; and messaging from UNC had made the police department hopeful that there would not be much activity if UNC won.
Some students and Chapel Hill residents reached out to the Town Council by email to express their concerns over the event potentially being a super spreader.
Ramirez said these concerns over COVID-19 are why he didn’t rush. He said he remembers the previous years when he rushed, but that he and his housemates made the right choice by not going.
"Most of the people who live around me didn’t make the same choice,” Ramirez said.
Blue said in the email the Chapel Hill Police Department already started conversations with UNC about the upcoming home game against Duke, and are coordinating with UNC about potential follow-ups with people identified in the rush.
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