Three people were arrested Tuesday night as hundreds gathered in Chapel Hill, N.C., to protest a controversial Confederate statue at the University of North Carolina’s flagship campus.
Protesters chanted “tear it down” in a crowd around the statue, which had been fenced off ahead of the rally and surrounded by police officers. University police arrested two people who were not affiliated with the school, UNC said in a statement. A third person was arrested by Chapel Hill Police, according to reports by WBTV.
The statue, known as “Silent Sam” for his lack of ammunition, has been a source of controversy on campus for years, and the university has long faced calls for it to be removed. It was erected in 1913 as a memorial to Confederate soldiers. The debate was reinvigorated by recent clashes in Charlottesville, Va., that began when white supremacist groups protested the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. In response, the University of Texas at Austin this week removed Confederate statues from its main campus. And miles from Chapel Hill, Duke University on Saturday removed a statue of Lee from the entrance of the school chapel after it was vandalized.
Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger has asked UNC to remove Silent Sam, saying it “presents a clear and present danger to the students on campus and our community at large.” And North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper this week gave UNC permission to take the statue down.
A 2015 law, signed by then-North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, requires the permission of the state’s Historical Commission to remove or alter any monuments or memorials on public property. “If our University leaders believe there is a real risk to public safety, the law allows them to take immediate measures,” Cooper wrote to UNC on Monday, noting that “other university leaders have taken decisive actions in recent days.”
But UNC officials have declined to remove the statue yet, maintaining that they’re bound by the state law. “The University is now caught between conflicting legal interpretations of the statute from the Governor and other legal experts,” the university said in a statement Tuesday. “Based on law enforcement agencies’ assessments, we continue to believe that removing the Confederate Monument is in the best interest of the safety of our campus, but the University can act only in accordance with the laws of the state of North Carolina.”