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UNC students protest Silent Sam security costs during meeting of trustees

Rrotesters hold signs callling attention to the  $390,000 the university spends on safety around the Silent Sam Confederate monument.
Rrotesters hold signs callling attention to the $390,000 the university spends on safety around the Silent Sam Confederate monument. jstancill@newsobserver.com

As a UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees committee was briefed Wednesday on security for the upcoming academic year, about 20 protesters had other ideas for the $390,000 the university spends on safety around the Silent Sam Confederate monument.

Their signs posed alternatives. Among them: “Offer 44 NC students full-ride tuition,” “Retain 3 faculty of color,” “Pay 1/2 of Margaret Spellings’ salary” and “Cover parking for at least 500 campus workers.”

Occasionally, a protester would interject a question, being careful not to interrupt Derek Kemp, associate vice chancellor for campus safety and risk management, as he gave his report.

“Are you going to send an undercover agent to spy on us again?” said one student, who covered her face with a sign. “Why do you care about statues more than students?”

Activists leading protests at UNC-Chapel Hill about Silent Sam confront UNC police officer Hector Borges, who had been previously been undercover posing as an auto mechanic sympathetic to their cause in an apparent effort to keep tabs on what they

Kemp continued with his report, saying that he expected a repeat of the protests around Silent Sam that stretched through the last school year. In the 2017-18 fiscal year, the university spent $390,000 on security costs, Kemp said. The university released that estimate last week.

That includes a campus police officer assigned to watch the area near the statue around-the-clock, Kemp said, for “the safety of all students, staff, faculty and visitors to this campus.”

Trustee Dwight Stone reminded the demonstrators about the new campus free speech policy required by state law. The policy, passed last year by the UNC system’s Board of Governors, calls for punishment – warning, suspension, even expulsion – for protesters who disrupt others at the state’s public universities.

“You are not allowed to disrupt this meeting,” Stone said. “I don’t want to ask you to leave. You’ve been very respectful so far.”

Jen Standish, a graduate student in history, said the group came to the meeting so that their framing and understanding of the issue was heard.

“How we understand this money being spent is that students were spied on by campus police, the university police force was used to intimidate students and anti-racist activists, and basically to exert control over student activism,” Standish said after the protest.

Standish said she expected protesters to be busy this fall.

“I don’t think there’s any slowing down of student, campus worker and community dedication to getting this statue taken down,” she said.

There was no discussion of the security issues other than the briefing. Kemp said the university would continue to use cameras to monitor the campus and would expand the use of barricade structures around the Pit, a popular gathering spot.

Tempers flare and emotions run high in August during a rally and march calling for the removal of the Confederate statue known as 'Silent Sam' on the UNC campus in Chapel Hill.

Jane Stancill: 919-829-4559, @janestancill
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