The annual Duke vs. UNC basketball game is one of Carolina’s favorite traditions. Especially when we win.
What might be even more exciting than the game itself, however, is the custom of rushing Franklin Street after a Tar Heel victory. The experience is Carolina lore, a bucket list item before graduation, a historical precedent that UNC students have enjoyed for years.
But this was not the year to do it.
Not only were students recklessly celebrating a win over the worst Duke basketball team in recent memory, but they did so amid a deadly pandemic and with in-person classes scheduled to begin Monday.
Some students could be seen grinning ear-to-ear as they posed for pictures with friends. Many were not wearing masks. Others yelled things like "F--- COVID" and said they weren't worried about the spread of COVID-19 because they'd "already had it."
As of Saturday, almost 10,000 North Carolinians have died from COVID-19. About 2,500 are currently hospitalized — some of them just down the street at UNC Hospitals.
It should not go unnoticed that the vast majority of students rushing were white. Openly flouting COVID-19 restrictions, the group started a fire and left the street littered with foam from a crowd-surfing mattress — yet the chaos continued for about 45 minutes before Chapel Hill Police finally dispersed the group.
If these students were Black and brown, would they have been treated the same?
Contrast this to crowd control tactics used at Silent Sam protests, when UNC Police deployed pepper spray, staged riot gear and arrested those who allegedly broke the law. Though Chapel Hill Police and UNC Police are separate entities, both exhibit a blatant double standard: enforcing the law in some cases and looking away in others.
It's no coincidence — it's a classic case of white privilege.
It should have been expected that students would rush Franklin Street after a UNC win. It should have been prevented as much as possible. While UNC encouraged students not to rush, there did not seem to be an effective plan to stop it from occurring. The police seemed to be even less prepared for the Franklin rush than they would have been in a normal year.
Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz did not issue a statement until after the game, saying the University would “investigate this incident and work with local authorities to pursue consequences.”
It was too little, too late. He should not have been surprised that the events of Saturday night transpired the way they did.
It’s easy to say “these students do not represent Carolina.” But the harder truth is that they do. From rushing Franklin to weekend partying and other violations of UNC’s COVID-19 Community Standards, we witness this privilege, self-absorption and shamelessness every day.
These fleeting moments of fun have a deadly cost, one that we will all have to pay. The University and Town must work to ensure there are consequences for those who chose to take part in the celebration rather than stay home.
Saturday's events should be interpreted as a sign that many students are simply unwilling to follow public health guidelines and put safety first. These students know how their actions will affect others — they simply don’t care. They must be held accountable.
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