Last week, a group of students and faculty protesting the “Silent Sam” Confederate statue on UNC’s Chapel Hill campus told the UNC Board of Governors they have endured mocking, racial slurs and threats as they demonstrate in front of the statue.
In and around the same time they were speaking to the board, they also faced a new and much stranger challenge: a UNC Police officer who has apparently been gathering information on the protesters and their movement without identifying himself and using an assumed name.
In the videos below a few demonstrators confront the officer. He evades their questions, is nervous about being videotaped in a public place, tries to get them to talk to him at the police sub-station and ultimately justifies his actions by saying “it’s called police work.”
— Alyssa Bowen (@AlyssaAnnBowen) November 3, 2017
Demonstrators said the officer – who eventually identified himself to them as Officer Hector Borges – came to them as someone who also opposed the statue, telling them an elaborate story about being a veteran with post traumatic stress disorder named “Victor.”
UNC Police Media Relations Director Randy Young provided the following statement to Policy Watch:
“The UNC Police department is aware of the recorded conversation between a UNC Police officer and a members of the public recently. While we don’t discuss specific details of operation, UNC Police has assigned officers to the area around Silent Sam, both in uniform and in plain clothes, ever since the Charlottesville incident with the sole purpose of maintaining student and public safety.”
Young said he could not elaborate on that prepared statement.
In a public comment section of Friday afternoon UNC Board of Governors meeting, UNC student Maya Little told board members Borges solicited personal information from students and tried to ingratiate himself with them before they saw him in uniform on campus and uncovered his deception. Little said it is particularly ironic that UNC Police would devote and undercover officer to this kind of work when students are simply exercising the First Amendment rights the board says it is attempting to protect with a new campus speech policy.
Several other faculty, staff and students said the incident seems to confirm that not all speech will be treated equally under the policy.
“Essentially, a police officer from the department that we pay our student fees and tuition to was hired to spy on us – to spy on students – in what I assume was an effort to protect this racist statue on the forefront of our campus,” Little said. “As a student at this university, as a worker, as a community member, I am deeply disturbed not only by the alumni and Carolina fans who harass us but also by the campus police officers who are hired by the University to do so.”