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Charges dropped against UNC professor who protested Silent Sam

Dr. Altha Cravey is asked to leave a September event with UNC Chancellor Carol Folt for holding up a protest sign.

Dr. Altha Cravey, a tenured professor of Geography at UNC-Chapel Hill, has never been afraid to take a stand.

A regular at campus protests, Cravey has been thrown out of  University events for holding up protest signs and criticized for helping to disrupt meetings of the UNC Board of Governors to oppose their policies.

Cravey doesn’t spook easily. But but she admits that this week, before her citation for throwing a rock at the controversial “Silent Sam” Confederate statue on the Chapel Hill campus was dismissed — she was was stressed.

“I never threw a rock, there was no evidence that I did and I told them when I was cited that I hadn’t,” Cravey said in an interview Wednesday. “I had been laughing it off until the night before the decision — and then my body let me know how stressed out I was. When they dropped the charges, it was a great relief.”

Cravey said her lawyer, Kellie Mannette, was able to provide photographs that cleared her and the matter was dropped Tuesday morning.

A good thing too, Cravey said, as the provost’s office recently asked for a meeting with her to explain that if convicted she would have to report it to the university within five days or she would be fired.

“I think they were trying to intimidate me,” Cravey said. “I usually don’t have any occasion to meet a provost.”

On December 15 the UNC Board of Governors will have a one-day meeting at which they are expected to pass a new university speech policy. Many students, faculty and staff, including Cravey, say they worry it may be used against peaceful protests and could create a chilling effect on critical speech.

“I think it certainly will be used against us,” Cravey said. “I think a lot of this conversation came out of the reaction to us disrupting the Board of Governors meeting when [UNC President] Margaret Spellings was being pushed into the president’s position.”

Cravey said she won’t stop speaking her mind, but she and others are aware of the potential dangers.

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UNC School of Education opposes “hatred, bigotry and white supremacy” of Silent Sam

A large crowd rallies at the Silent Sam Confederate monument on UNC’s campus as student Michelle Brown speaks. (Photo by Joe Killian)

On Tuesday the UNC School of Education became the latest group to officially call for the removal of Silent Sam, the controversial Confederate monument on the Chapel Hill campus.

The school’s statement:

The Faculty, Staff, and the Board of the Graduate Student Association in the School of Education at UNC-Chapel Hill stand with faculty, staff, and students from across campus in calling for the removal of the confederate monument now known as “Silent Sam.” In speeches dedicating the monument, Silent Sam was erected as a symbol of hatred, bigotry, and white supremacy. It was part of a movement that worked to suppress the political and economic power of black Americans, to establish structures to extend white dominance, and to suppress the aspirations of people of color. Its presence on our campus is contrary to our School’s commitment to the transformative power of education. It is contrary to our belief, as embodied in our mission, that “education has the power to break down barriers, lift up individuals, and empower communities to rise and thrive.” It is contrary to the ideas and practices that we and many of our alumni have worked to implement to dismantle the vestiges of a history that included laws forbidding slaves to learn to read or write and making it a crime for others to teach them. If we are to be true to the people of the state and part of a world-class educational system dedicated to serving North Carolina and its people, we must ensure that our campus is welcoming to all learners. As educators, we have an obligation to continue the work of dismantling systemic racism in our schools, on our college campuses, and in our democratic society.

Adopted by votes of the Faculty and Staff of the School of Education and the Board of the School’s Graduate Student Association.

The statement is just the latest in a large and growing number from departments and groups representing students, staff and faculty.

The UNC Board of Trustees heard from a cross section of students, staff, faculty and alumni on the Silent Sam issue at their meeting earlier this month.

UNC Chancellor Carol Folt and UNC President Margaret Spellings have thus far held to their position that their hands are tied by a 2015 state law preventing the removal of “objects of remembrance” under most circumstances.

Both have chosen their public words on the subject carefully and have been chided by lawmakers and the UNC Board of Governors – both dominated by Republicans – for discussing the matter with Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat.

Cooper and a number of legal experts – including some in the UNC School of Law – disagree that the law completely prevents the school from taking action to remove the statue.

 

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Opposition to Silent Sam, surveillance of protest groups, continues to grow

If you’ve been following our coverage of the controversy over “Silent Sam,” the only Confederate monument on a UNC Campus, you’ll want to mark your calendar for a few things this week.

On Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. there will be a rally at the South Building on the UNC campus at Chapel Hill to demand answers on the undercover police surveillance of those protesting the monument.

Responding to controversy over the use of an undercover officer who used an assumed name and life-story to ingratiate himself with protesters, UNC Police Chief Jeff McCracken released a statement saying the move was simply to protect students from a potential “violent outbreak.”

Various student, faculty and civil rights watchdog groups are skeptical of that justification — including the non-profit Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

FIRE recently backed a controversial university speech policy that students, faculty and the American Civil Liberties Union worry could be misapplied and have have a chilling effect on free speech.

But in a statement, the group stood up for anti-Silent Sam protesters and decried the use of undercover police officers to monitor their activities:

It’s not unheard of for a university to use undercover officers. The University of Chicago did the same thing in 2013, with an on-duty detective marching in plain clothes in a protest calling for a trauma center to be re-opened on campus. (An on-campus trauma center is planned for 2018.) And the nature of undercover work means that we can’t know how often it really happens; at best, we know how often the officer is exposed.

The use of undercover officers to keep tabs on people engaged in First Amendment activities, however, creates a serious risk of chilling speech. We at FIRE believe undercover officers should not be used to infiltrate groups engaged in First Amendment activity as a general surveillance technique.

In 2006, the ACLU of Northern California wrote a guide of “best practices” for surveillance of First Amendment activity. The good advice contained therein is applicable here. The guide recommends that surveillance should only happen when there is a reasonable suspicion of criminal conduct (beyond the “civil disobedience” of protesting); a relationship between the First Amendment activity and the conduct being investigated; and when there are no less-chilling alternatives (such as openly investigating crime as police are trained to do, or using security cameras in public locations).

The threat posed by undercover surveillance of protest groups goes beyond the chilling effect on the speech of those groups. It also contributes to the sense that police and student activists are adversaries. That mistrust complicates the ability of uniformed police officers to do their jobs and reduces the likelihood that students will come forward with information they otherwise would have shared.

Public safety is the ultimate goal of campus law enforcement. We hope UNC’s police, and all campus police, consider the effect of this kind of activity before deciding to spy on students exercising their First Amendment rights in the future.

 

Meanwhile, the on-campus momentum against the monument continues to grow with new statements from the Department of Communication and the Department of African, African American and Diaspora Studies.

The statement from the Department of African, African American and Diaspora Studies is particularly strong:

For years, we have taught this monument’s fraught history and called attention to the negative signal it sends to contemporary students, faculty, and other UNC workers, especially African Americans. In the wake of Charlottesville, and given the resurgence of a white nationalist movement which has adopted such Jim Crow era statues as proud icons, the meaning of Silent Sam is no longer in doubt. No explanatory plaque, or alternative monument in the vicinity, can adequately counteract or compensate for the divisive, racially charged message this statue loudly projects. In accordance with the university’s core values, the Department of African, African American and Diaspora Studies is committed to diversity and inclusion in all its functions. To leave Silent Sam where he stands, at perhaps the most prominent site on university grounds, can only be seen as inconsistent with that core mission. Most disturbingly, the statue invites violent groups, who could pose real danger to students and everyone else on campus. If the statue is of historical interest, let it be moved to a historical museum.

Students and faculty intend to speak on the opposition to Silent Sam and to UNC police surveillance of the movement at Wednesday’s UNC Board of Trustees meeting.

The meeting will be held at the Carolina Inn, 211 Pittsboro St. in Chapel Hill. It will begin at 8 a.m. with the public comment portion beginning at 9 a.m.

 

News

UNC Police officer went undercover to gather information on “Silent Sam” protests

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.”

 

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.”

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Movement to remove Silent Sam continues to grow at UNC

As the N.C. Historical Commission studies its options and the UNC administration and Board of Governors lock horns over the issue, the movement to remove the “Silent Sam” Confederate monument from UNC’s Chapel Hill campus continues to gain momentum.

Last week UNC’s Department of Religious Studies became just the latest in a series of university departments to release a statement supporting removal.

The statement is brief but covers a lot of ground – connecting the study of religion to the issue, calling for administrative action and student protests of the statue as a “vital service.”

It is impossible to study religion without recognizing the importance of cultural, social, and political diversity, the enormous power of material objects, and the profound ways in which the past pervades the present. The Confederate monument known as “Silent Sam” exerts the ongoing power of white supremacy on our campus. As religious studies scholars, we are particularly aware that it was erected as an icon of social inequity and that white nationalist groups today have invested its presence on campus with sacred value.

In his 1913 speech dedicating the statue, Julian S. Carr celebrated the “sacrifice” of Confederate soldiers, the purity of “the Anglo Saxon” as a “Christian race,” and God’s providential blessing of the southern states in order to sanctify racial violence, a violence that continues today against racial, ethnic, and religious minorities. “Silent Sam” still enjoys the privilege of sacred space on this campus, not only raised high but also guarded by cameras, police, and sometimes barricades. Allowing this statue to remain in McCorkle Place contradicts the university’s policy on non-discrimination, which states that “The University is committed to providing an inclusive and welcoming environment.”

In her August 30th, 2017 email, Chancellor Carol Folt called on the campus community to “promote robust dialogue and debate” in an effort to encourage and protect free speech. In order to demonstrate its sincere commitment to the freedom of expression, the University must end its policies curtailing student activism around the statue and throughout the campus. Their material, embodied, and creative counter-narratives provide a vital service in challenging the legacy and ongoing threat of white supremacy.

The Department of Religious Studies calls for the removal of “Silent Sam” from McCorkle Place and the full protection of the student activists’ freedom of political expression.

“Silent Sam” is the only Confederate Monument on a UNC campus.

The Religious Studies statement joins those from a number of other departments, including  AnthropologyHistory, Art & Art History and English and Comparative Literature.