Orange County

Crowd comes to talk Silent Sam protests and police, but not with the chief

Police pepper spray protesters while keeping Silent Sam supporters separated from protesters

Police deploy pepper spray near a crowd of protesters while keeping Silent Sam Confederate monument supporters separated from protesters Thursday night, August 30, 2018 at UNC-Chapel Hill.
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Police deploy pepper spray near a crowd of protesters while keeping Silent Sam Confederate monument supporters separated from protesters Thursday night, August 30, 2018 at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue was ready to hear the criticism of his department’s role in recent protests on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus where the Confederate monument Silent Sam once stood.

But at the last minute Blue was asked not to participate in the Community Policing Advisory Committee meeting at the Chapel Hill Public Library on Tuesday night. Blue was at the library before the meeting but left after Chairman Darrell Keyes told him some people did not want him there.

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Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue Harry Lynch hlynch@newsobserver.com

“There were some people who did not want anybody from the Police Department in the meeting,” Keyes said. “People wanted to speak their minds freely. I told Chief Blue about those concerns, and he respected it.”

More than 75 people attended the meeting.

Keyes opened by saying the committee was there to hear concerns and pass them to the Police Department. The monthly meetings usually take place at the Police Department, but Tuesday night’s meeting was moved to the library for the larger crowd.

Board member Calvin Deutschbein said it was by far the largest attendance of any of the group’s meeting in the past year.

“We had two people come to the last meeting, and it was the most people until tonight,” he said. “They wanted to speak about Silent Sam then, and that’s what people spoke about this time.”

More than 20 people spoke at the meeting. Many had attended protests at Silent Sam. Some had been arrested. Others said they had been pepper sprayed by police. None were satisfied with the police response during the most recent protest on Saturday when eight people were arrested.

Protesters pulled down Silent Sam on the night of Aug. 20. The following Saturday, Aug. 25, protesters on both sides of the contentious issue clashed, which led to numerous arrests. Another clash between the two sides happened Aug. 30, and more people were arrested.

Police have arrested 26 people in connection with the four protests.

Most of the people who’ve been arrested were against Silent Sam being on UNC’s campus.

During the meeting, activist Heather Redding said it seemed like the police singling out people in the movement against Silent Sam for arrest while allowing hate groups on campus.

Policing McCorkle Place where Silent Sam once stood has been complicated. Campus police have jurisdiction, but they are aided by Chapel Hill police. More outside law enforcement agencies also have been brought in under mutual aid agreements

After the Aug. 25 protest, police tried to keep the two sides separated during the last two protests. That action caused some people at the meeting to ask why Silent Sam supporters were getting special treatment by being led into and out of the area where the statue’s base still stands. In both instances, the supporters of Silent Sam were greatly outnumbered by the counter protesters

Samee Siddiqui said it seemed like the police waited until they escorted the supporters out of the area before any arrests were made.

“The first arrests weren’t made until they left,” Siddiqui said. “It’s like [the police] wanted to give payback to the kids who were not respecting them.”

Another person asked the committee if they’d ask about the department’s mutual aid agreement with Greensboro police., who she said has been more aggressive than necessary. They used their bicycles to create a barricade, and then used them to push against protesters, it was reported.

“What those police were doing was unconscionable,” she said.

Keyes said all the comments would be shared with the Police Department before next month’s meeting.

On Wednesday Assistant Chief Jabe Hunter, who is the town’s staff liaison to the committee, said he and Blue will review them after the hurricane. They agreed to leave the meeting so that there could be a necessary dialogue, he explained.

“I understand the point was to give an outlet to folks to voice their opinions,” Hunter said.

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Before the meeting, four people stood outside the main entrance of the library holding signs. One read, “Their cops, Our blood.” Another said “No Cops @ McCorkle.”

Staff writer Tammy Grubb contributed to the story.

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