Moments after UNC men’s basketball defeated Duke, a growing crowd of fans stood at all four corners of the intersection of Franklin and Columbia Streets, chanting “Tar” and “Heels” back and forth.
Then, as Chapel Hill Police officers stood by, many fans rushed to the intersection's center for the second time this year, defying UNC Community Standards and a state executive order meant to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Last month, officers took over 35 minutes to clear the intersection. This crowd, which was substantially smaller, dispersed from the intersection for the resumption of traffic within five minutes. The crowd later regrouped for another brief period.
Senior Jobel Angela Barcoma said she chose to stand on the sidelines while students rushed to experience a UNC tradition.
“Part of it would be trying to experience what rushing is [like] as a UNC student,” Barcoma said.
Ran Northam, the interim communications manager for the Town of Chapel Hill, confirmed that Chapel Hill Police officers closed off the intersection for six minutes. There were at least 15 officers at the intersection during the rush.
"That was in response to celebrants in the street, and looking out for the safety of those in the street," Northam said.
The Town of Chapel Hill confirmed in a later statement that this closure was for the safety of the fans.
“Incoming traffic was detoured, and cars that were already in the intersection were directed around the closure," Town of Chapel Hill Emergency Management Coordinator Kelly Drayton said. "Our police officers were able to effectively and efficiently move the crowd from the intersection and back onto the sidewalks.”
Some of the fans who rushed booed law enforcement as they were restricted to the street corners and crosswalks on several occasions.
“You guys suck,” one student yelled at an officer. “I really mean that.”
The game comes a week after Gov. Roy Cooper announced last Wednesday that he would ease numerous COVID-19 restrictions because the state has seen a lower amount of cases and vaccine distribution has increased.
The order allows indoor sporting venues with capacities above 5,000 people to operate at 15 percent capacity. Still, local and UNC officials continued to caution fans against rushing Franklin Street.
Victoria Hudson, the director of environmental health for Orange County, said the eased restrictions are not an excuse to lose vigilance.
“Community transmission and vaccination trends are moving in the right direction,” Hudson wrote. “The recent Executive Order eased some restrictions on businesses. We have to stay vigilant to eliminate any actions that could lead to negative impacts at this time.”
Northam said the Town has focused on educating fans about the danger of rushing, promoting alternatives including virtual watch parties and early visits to Franklin Street for pictures and dining.
UNC Police Chief David Perry said there would be as many as 30 officers on stand-by at both the Dean E. Smith Center and the Columbia Street and Cameron Avenue area at a Campus Safety Commission meeting Wednesday afternoon.
Over 300 students were referred to UNC's Office of Student Conduct following last month’s rush, facing consequences that range from a warning to disenrollment if they are found guilty.
UNC Media Relations confirmed that students would be investigated again if they were reported for rushing tonight.
“We appreciate that the overwhelming majority of our students did the right thing tonight and celebrated safely,” UNC spokesperson Joanne Peters Denny said in a Media Relations statement. “We’re disappointed in those who did not heed the warnings not to rush Franklin Street and will follow our disciplinary process for any reports we receive of violations of our Covid-19 community standards.”
However, student rushers interviewed by the DTH said the rush was worth it, despite the COVID-19 exposure and the possible consequences.
"I can't go out there, I'll get arrested," one student, standing back from the center of the intersection said to a friend standing by. "They're going to bury us."
"Maybe next year," a police officer standing nearby said. "Just not now."
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