Questions raised about UNC Honor Court member’s impartiality during Silent Sam trial
At the first day of the honor court trial for UNC-Chapel Hill graduate student Maya Little, testimony began with the mundane details of the police response and cleanup at the Silent Sam Confederate monument after Little poured ink and blood on it in April.
But Thursday’s hearing turned dramatic over questions of whether a member of the five-member honor court panel can give a fair hearing to Little.
The member, law student Frank Pray, has made previous comments criticizing student activists and attempts to alter historic monuments.
Little’s defense counsel, Clare Kurdys, read previous statements from Pray, who in 2015 called Silent Sam protesters “petulent children” in a tweet. His comment was a response to a UNC professor, Altha Cravey, who had applauded the activists. Pray’s tweet said “You’re a disgrace” to the professor.
Kurdys also quoted from a statement that Pray reportedly made during a Board of Trustees meeting.
On behalf of the College Republicans, Kurdys said, Pray reportedly stated that Silent Sam is a memorial “to the brave North Carolinians who were defending their home state at the advance of the Union Army who was literally raping and pillaging their way through North Carolina on their march to the sea....To change the monument in any substantial way that would disrespect that memory and disrespect our ancestors is quite frankly an insult to us and their memories and therefore we can’t let that stand.”
The panel recessed to discuss the questions of impartiality. Supporters of Little in the audience were critical of the hearing. “The rules are clearly being violated here,” said Cravey, who sat in the front row at the proceeding.
After the recess, Little was allowed to question Pray about whether he can be fair in light of his past comments. “What is your opinion on the Silent Sam monument?” she asked.
Pray responded that his opinions had no bearing on the hearing.
“I do not believe that is relevant or reflects at all on my impartiality and the ability to adjudicate and hear within the four corners of the material that has been presented on matters relating to this accused violation,” Pray said.
“That would absolutely be more believable if you hadn’t deleted your Facebook and comments about the monument,” Little shot back, adding, “Why did you not recuse yourself?”
Pray said he had deleted some previous outspoken comments in the normal course of preparing for a career in the law in which he wants to appear less political.
Kurdys suggested that even if Pray can be impartial, his participation could lead to the appearance of a conflict, especially in a public hearing.
The panel made no determination about whether Pray should continue hearing the case. That could come when the case continues on Friday.
Honor court hearings are almost never open. Thursday’s proceeding was opened to the public and the media at the request of Little, and it was a rare glimpse into the workings of student judicial panels at UNC.
More than 60 people packed into a room on campus to watch the hearing, which is expected to continue Friday. Many were supporters of Little.
UNC’s Office of Student Conduct charged Little in June with “stealing, destroying or misusing property,” a violation of the honor code.
Little, a Ph.D. history student from Columbus, Ohio, has described her April 30 action as civil disobedience and an effort to contextualize the monument’s white supremacist origin. On that day, video shows Little pouring red ink on the pedestal that supported Silent Sam. She also used blood from a cut on her hand.
She was arrested that day by UNC police and charged with vandalism. She won a victory of sorts in an Orange County courtroom earlier this month, when a judge found her guilty of a misdemeanor but handed down no punishment.
If found guilty in an honor court proceeding, punishment could include probation, suspension or expulsion. Expulsion is a rare penalty in such hearings.
On Thursday, a UNC police officer testified about arresting Little after witnessing her dousing the monument. He said she did not stop dumping the bottles of red liquid when he initially asked her to cease, but said she was cooperative when he led her away.
Also, a maintenance supervisor at UNC testified that it took a crew of nine workers three days to wash off the red stains from the statue’s pedestal. They used hot water pressure washers and wire brushes. The supervisor estimated the cost at about $4,000 for the cleanup.