Letters to the Editor

Chamber says Chapel Hill’s reputation, economy at stake as Silent Sam protests mount

Police wielding pepper spray take woman into custody at UNC Silent Sam protest

Police officers, some wielding pepper spray cannisters, take a woman into custody at a Silent Sam protest on the UNC campus in Chapel Hill, NC Thursday night, Aug. 30, 2018.
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Police officers, some wielding pepper spray cannisters, take a woman into custody at a Silent Sam protest on the UNC campus in Chapel Hill, NC Thursday night, Aug. 30, 2018.

Editor’s note: The following is a joint letter submitted to UNC Chancellor Folt from the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce and the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership.

Dear Chancellor Folt,

Thank you for your leadership during these complex times and for your constant focus on the safety of students, neighbors, and visitors to Chapel Hill.

We know the UNC Board of Governors directed you and the trustees to develop a lawful and lasting plan to preserve the 105-year-old statue of a Confederate soldier, Silent Sam, with a deadline of Nov. 15, 2018. We write on behalf of the Chapel Hill business community to ask you to permanently relocate ‘Silent Sam’ for three reasons:

Safety – With strong opinions on both sides having now reached a boiling point and more protests continuing to brew, we do not have confidence that our community will remain peaceful. Worse, we have reasonable concerns that what happened in Charlottesville could easily happen in Chapel Hill. When there’s fire, remove the fuel.

Business impact – The Chapel Hill downtown business community is made up mostly of small businesses with local owners who are deeply invested in their business and our community. When local government, in the name of safety, must shut down the downtown district for protests, our local businesses suffer dearly. We estimate the loss of more than $189,000 in retail sales and more than $10,000 in lost wages per event. This financial impact is far more painful when the protests coincide with peak business days such as back-to-school weekends or Thursday evenings, on which downtown business depends. Bottom line: When customers are concerned about their safety downtown, our local businesses feel the consequences.

Community Reputation – Charming Chapel Hill was recognized just last year by the Guardian as one of the best small towns in the U.S. Now, sadly, we are generating unflattering and unsavory local, regional, and national media attention. A reputation takes a lifetime to build and five minutes to ruin. We are one dangerous protest away from destroying our community’s reputation and becoming known more for this controversy than all our exceptional attributes.

A year ago, the Chamber called for the relocation of Silent Sam to a more appropriate place where both the Civil War, and the Jim Crow Era of its installation, can be appropriately remembered. We felt then, and even more so today, that this prominently placed statue threatens our community’s safety, is bad for business, and undermines our well-earned reputation that successfully attracts business, talent, and investment in our community.

We believe the points we raise through this letter, coupled with the statement from our mayor about concerns for public safety, meets the exception clause of the 2015 state law and provides sufficient grounds for the lawful and lasting relocation of Silent Sam.

Thank you for considering our perspective and request. Our hope is that, with your leadership, we will soon return to a safe and productive campus with a thriving and vibrant downtown.

Aaron Nelson is the president & CEO of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce. Elinor Landess is the interim executive director of the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership.

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