UNC-Chapel Hill graduate student Maya Little has said all along that she smeared her blood and ink on the Silent Sam Confederate statue on April 30.
So the question Little’s attorney posed during a daylong trial Monday wasn’t whether she defaced the controversial monument, but whether her actions were justified by serving a greater good.
Ultimately, Orange County District Court Judge Samantha Cabe found Little guilty of a misdemeanor charge, but the judge did not hand down a sentence or punishment.
Little’s attorney, Scott Holmes, argued that Silent Sam, which stood on a pedestal on campus for 105 years before protesters toppled the statue in August, is a form of “hate speech.” He said Little’s actions fell under under the law of necessity.
“The facts will show that what sits as monument to the Confederacy at the front door of UNC-Chapel Hill is government hate speech that violates the Constitution,” Holmes said during his opening remarks.
But Cabe said her verdict came down to the fact that Little put blood and ink on the statue, as shown via Facebook Live and on a police officer’s body-worn camera.
Cabe said the application of the law of necessity “complicates things,” adding that the doctrine is a well-recognized defense against charges that stem from civil disobedience.
Relevant case law indicates the law of necessity requires the defendant’s actions would “help stop the clear and immediate threat of harm,” Cabe said.
Tensions have been present for years regarding Silent Sam, which depicts a Confederate soldier facing north.
In their testimonies Monday, UNC students and current and former professors who study African-American history said Silent Sam was built on violence against black people and to perpetuate the ideals of the Confederacy.
Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger and Police Chief Chris Blue also testified that the statue has created a public safety issue for the campus and town, and they have asked for it to be removed.
Little, a 26-year-old doctoral student of history, and other students described the actions they took in an effort to get the monument removed or to add a plaque with context.
“When a white supremacist statue is protected by law, demanding dignity is illegal,” Little testified. “When a university spends almost $400,000 to silence and conceal dissent, showing the truth is punished.”
Not ‘legally justified’
Assistant District Attorney Billy Massengale said he hopes UNC leaders don’t replace Silent Sam. The speech made by Julian Carr during the statue’s dedication in 1913 “was one of the most difficult things I have had to read,” he said.
But Massengale said Little wasn’t “legally justified to impose her views on the people.”
“The purpose of the laws is to make us all equal,” Massengale said. “There is one law for everyone in the state.”
Josh Plates, a supervisor for exterior maintenance at UNC, said during his testimony that it took two hours on April 30, and then two additional days, for a total of nine people to use power-washing tools and wire brushes to remove the ink and blood from Silent Sam. The cleanup cost about $4,000, he said.
Holmes had issued subpoenas to UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt and Police Chief Jeff McCracken. But Cabe sided with the North Carolina attorney general’s office, which argued that Folt and McCracken did not have adequate notice to appear in court this week.
‘They have failed’
Supporters of Little gathered outside the courthouse early Monday morning. They set up signs that said “Free Food for Anti-Racists” and “The Revolution is a Breakfast Party!”
Before walking into court, Little said her supporters were there because institutions, including UNC-Chapel Hill, have failed them.
“They have failed to stop white supremacy,” Little said. “They have failed to remove it from campus and now they are punishing the people who have fought against it.”
UNC officials are now trying to decide what’s next for Silent Sam. A 2015 state law prevents the removal of monuments on public property without the state historical commission’s approval.
Meanwhile, Little said she is set to go go before the Honor Court on Oct. 25-26.