Orange County

Should Chapel Hill end police partnerships with UNC until Silent Sam is removed?

A former Town Council member says Chapel Hill should refuse to work with UNC until the university takes down its Confederate statue Silent Sam.

Maria Palmer told the council last week that she is “deeply embarrassed and offended” to see campus and town police protecting the Confederate statue and white supremacists who harass Silent Sam protesters.

Chapel Hill would not be the town it is without the university, she said, but town action can make the decision to take down the statue easier for UNC.

Maria Palmer
Maria Palmer Submitted

"I'm just shocked, that when you think about it, the university is using resources to really stifle kids' speech," Palmer said.

"The university is trying to preserve this sanitized [version] that the campus is just about grass and statues, and not about education and history," she added. "It made me really sad, and I thought Chapel Hill needs to say that's not what this community is known for."

Police Chief Chris Blue and other town officials said Chapel Hill police do not protect Silent Sam or get directly involved in campus policing. Even when UNC calls on local police for help, that generally reflects the town's need to police its own jurisdiction, Blue said.

"We don't have any responsibility for or to Silent Sam," Blue said. "Of course, anytime, no matter what the nature of the event might be, we do have jurisdiction to go onto campus, and if UNC called us for assistance in an emergency, we would go."

Chapel Hill police may not protect the statue directly, Palmer said, but in maintaining campus peace and safety, they are freeing up UNC police resources to focus on Silent Sam.

"And don't tell me they're not," she said, "because I go there a lot, and I see the cops 24 hours a day, the university police sitting there."

Chris Blue
Chris Blue Town of Chapel Hill Contributed

Providing mutual aid

Chapel Hill and UNC police have a mutual aid agreement for emergency situations and special events, such as NCAA and Halloween celebrations. Otherwise, UNC Public Safety patrols university-owned or leased land, and Chapel Hill police patrol the town.

UNC did seek Chapel Hill's help with the August 2017 protest that drew hundreds to the campus, Blue said, but police only directed traffic and protesters off campus and on Franklin Street. The town paid for its response to that protest, and UNC paid its costs, he said.

In general, the town and UNC share the cost of special events, including about $150,000 last year for Halloween and $188,049 for the Final Four celebrations. The money pays for law enforcement, EMS, and Chapel Hill firefighters, public works and town staff, Blue said. UNC pays half after deducting its own public safety costs, he said. The town spent just over $251,000 for special events in 2016-17 and an estimated $107,690 last year when Halloween fell on a weekday, budgets show.

UNC also compensates Chapel Hill police and Orange County Sheriff's Office deputies for their help with basketball and football games, Stancil and Chief Deputy Jamison Sykes said.

UNC has paid the county roughly $36,785 since July 2016 to have deputies at basketball games and $30,533 for football game coverage, according to the county's senior accountant Howard Fitts. The university also paid $14,633 in November 2017 for Sheriff’s Office help with Silent Sam protests, he said. Video reports show sheriff's deputies were actively involved in the on-campus operation.

Carrboro police also were at the August protest but did not go onto campus. They did not respond to a request for more information.

Law enforcement is only one way the town and university collaborate, Town Manager Roger Stancil said. They also share the cost with Carrboro for Chapel Hill Transit and jointly plan for local growth, including a development agreement being negotiated for a Municipal Services Center campus on Estes Drive Extension. Chapel Hill plans to build a new Police Department and other town offices on UNC land there.

The town also provides the university with fire service, Stancil said, noting that UNC has purchased a firetruck and let firefighters use its space at Meadowmont as a fire education center.

Pam Hemminger

Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger said Silent Sam is "more of a state legislative issue" and that "UNC wants to move it." Hemminger wrote a letter to UNC Chancellor Carol Folt last year seeking Silent Sam's removal and has since met twice with Democratic state Rep. Verla Insko about seeking a legislative solution.

"It has been very frustrating to be unable to bring about any change on this issue, even through compromise," Hemminger said. "Although the outcomes, so far, have been very discouraging, I will continue to pursue new avenues to have Silent Sam removed from its current site."

She and Stancil will review Palmer's petition before making a recommendation to the council, Hemminger said.

"I believe more in collaboration than shaming," she said. "We are working with them to move it."

Her petition, Palmer said, was inspired by UNC graduate student Maya Little's “courageous actions" in painting the statue April 30.

About the statue

Silent Sam was commissioned by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1910 and dedicated in 1913 to the 321 UNC alumni who died in the Civil War and the 1,062 who entered the Confederate Army.

Julian Carr, the textile mill baron who spoke during the statue's dedication about horsewhipping a "negro wench" for insulting a white woman, is the namesake of neighboring Carrboro. That town's Board of Aldermen are considering a plaque in that town to tell Carr's history.

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Silent Sam has been a target of vandalism and protest for decades. There are now daily sit-ins at the statue's base.

Little, a sit-in organizer, has advocated for the statue's removal since 2016. She was charged April 30 with defacing the monument after mixing her blood with red ink and staining the statue's base. Students and faculty in UNC's history department, where Little is a doctoral student, sent a letter to Folt supporting her act of civil disobedience.

Little's supporters also filled the courthouse lawn in Hillsborough on May 7 before filing into court for her first hearing. She will return to the Orange County District courtroom to answer to the misdemeanor charge Aug. 20.

Little said she has been threatened online with violence since her action and that some have said they would like to see her lynched. She painted Silent Sam to add context to his history and the history of violence and genocide against black people, Little said, adding the statue was meant to intimidate black people at the university for generations.

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Folt has agreed the statue is detrimental to the campus. However, she cited university attorneys who concluded a 2015 state law protects historic monuments, including Silent Sam.

Palmer wants UNC to consider other options, like putting an installation around Silent Sam to let students express their thoughts and share the statue's history with others.

"As an educator, be creative and help the students to speak out about what this means to them, so that when people come to the campus, they can see that, and help the students to have a voice, particularly the black students who are so threatened and offended," she said.

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926; @TammyGrubb