CHAPEL HILL, N.C. ― What started as a peaceful demonstration over a toppled Confederate monument at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill campus Thursday evening ended with three people arrested and the crowd doused in pepper spray.
About 40 people showed up for a “Twilight Service” that Alamance County Taking Back Alamance County, or ACTBAC, had planned on the campus to “show respect and honor to our fallen boy soldier” at the site where protesters pulled down the Confederate monument known as “Silent Sam” on Aug. 21. The Southern Poverty Law Center has described ACTBAC as “a neo-Confederate hate group.”
At least 200 counterprotesters showed up, despite warnings from university administrators to stay away from the demonstration site. Some who had opposed the statue hosted a dance party near the steps of the monument’s pedestal, while others shouted at the statue’s supporters.
Two of the people arrested were charged with disturbing the peace by fighting in a public place, and the third person arrested was accused of resisting an officer. The university has not released the names of those arrested Thursday. It was not clear if those arrested were affiliated with UNC. Seven people were also arrested at protests at the site last Saturday.
The monument was erected in 1913 to commemorate UNC students who fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War. Since the statue fell, the university has faced criticism from both sides for its handling of the incident. State law had previously prevented the university from moving the statue, but questions remain over whether the school is required to reinstall it.
André Tyson, a senior from Ansonville, North Carolina, said he’ll do whatever it takes to make sure that the statue is not put back up.
“You have no idea the sense of empowerment that I feel when I see that that statue has come down,” Tyson said.
UNC Chancellor Carol Folt and the university’s Board of Trustees passed a resolution Tuesday setting a Nov. 15 deadline to determine the statue’s fate.
After a demonstration Saturday, Folt defended the idea of relocating it. “I would find a better location, a safe, secure location for the monument that would allow us to talk about it, learn from it and deal with it in a respectful, appropriate way. And if I could do that, that is what I still believe is necessary.”
Officers from multiple UNC system schools assisted campus police in containing the groups.
Shortly after counterprotesters began dancing, police officers with bicycles barricaded a pathway for ACTBAC members to enter the fenced area surrounding the pedestal. For about 30 minutes the “mourners” stood by the statue’s base, paying respects and staring at the crowd as they waved their Confederate flags.
Hundreds of counterprotesters stood by the fences chanting for the group to leave. As ACTBAC members were escorted off campus, police pepper-sprayed the crowd to “maintain order,” the university said in a statement.
A few police officers stood around the statue’s pedestal when tension between the groups rose moments later. A group of counterprotesters had gathered and started chanting “Nazis go home” when officers intervened and arrested one man.
“I think that this whole hubbub over the monument is less about slavery and more about the suppression of free speech,” Noel Fritsch, a 38-year-old Chapel Hill resident who has worked as a political consultant for Republican campaigns, said above the shouts of counterprotesters. “These people don’t believe that people who don’t agree with them ought to be able to exist.”
As officers pulled two other women out of the crowd who had been arguing with Fritsch, an officer doused the crowd in pepper spray again.
The three people arrested were held in a nearby building filled with officers in riot gear. Moments later, as police escorted the three out of the area, demonstrators attempted to stop them. Officers again used pepper spray to disperse the crowd.
Counterprotesters say they won’t be deterred from speaking out against any effort to restore the monument to its previous location on campus.
“This campus belongs to everyone,” said Altha Cravey, a professor at the university, as she danced. “We don’t want Nazis. I’m here to celebrate ‘Silent Sam’ is gone, and he’s not coming back.”