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UNC safety commission named, and faculty joins push for scrutiny of campus police

The rise and fall of Silent Sam

Silent Sam has stood on UNC-Chapel Hill's McCorkle Place for 105 years. On Monday August 20, 2018, it was brought down by protesters.
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Silent Sam has stood on UNC-Chapel Hill's McCorkle Place for 105 years. On Monday August 20, 2018, it was brought down by protesters.

UNC interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz on Monday named the members of a new commission to look at campus policing and said the university has hired an outside consultant to review incidents of the past several months, most of them involving Silent Sam.

Immediately, some students and faculty questioned how effective the Campus Safety Commission and consultant would be, and how much input other students and faculty would get in their work.

In announcing the commission members, Guskiewicz said he had met with different campus groups over the past several weeks and had heard from them ways to improve “equity and inclusion on campus, while working to eradicate racism, extremism and all forms of hate.”

The commission will include faculty members and students, a minister, a former Chapel Hill police chief and others.

Lindsay Ayling, a graduate student in history and an organizer of campus protests against Silent Sam and its supporters, said the commission only gives the appearance of the school taking action.

“But it’s just a public relations move,” she said, because it doesn’t include protest organizers. She also said she doesn’t trust that a former police officer can look objectively for problems within the UNC Police department.

Guskiewicz first announced plans for the commission in late March, two weeks after Lance Spivey, a cofounder of the Heirs to the Confederacy group brought a 9 mm handgun to campus.

Spivey and others were at UNC to demonstrate in favor of the reinstallation of Silent Sam, UNC’s dethroned Confederate monument.

It’s a felony to carry a firearm and a misdemeanor to carry a knife or other weapon onto any UNC campus. Campus officers asked Spivey and others in the group to leave without charging them.

The university said later that the officers were confused about whether Spivey was violating the law because he was on the right-of-way of a Chapel Hill town street that runs through UNC.

Spivey said he has since been ordered to stay off the UNC campus for no less than two years, or be charged with trespassing.

The incident, and others concerning the Confederate monument, its toppling by protesters last August and UNC’s ongoing discussions about what happens to it next, have generated a range of complaints about the campus police department.

The monument’s supporters have said UNC Police didn’t do enough to protect an object of historical significance from vandals. Its detractors have said UNC Police have been openly hostile to students who see the statue as a symbol of white supremacy and have been overly solicitous of “Confederates” when the two groups have clashed on campus.

Supporters of Silent Sam arrived at the monument's base on Saturday, September 8, 2018. They were met with a counter-protest organized as a potluck and canned food drive. Supporters were escorted out, and several arrests were made afterwards.

Student presentation

Just before Guskiewicz’s announcement, Ayling and another student who has been involved in protests over Silent Sam gave a short presentation to a group of faculty and classmates on campus.

History graduate student Mark Porlides talked about his arrest during a protest last year, and showed a video clip of his arrest taken by an officer’s body camera. Porlides said officers said there was no video of his being tackled and handcuffed as he stood watching the protest, but that his attorney was able to subpoena the video, which he said showed their account of the incident was incorrect.

The charges were subsequently dismissed.

Ayling spoke about research she has done showing connections between some of the pro-monument activists and local and national white-supremacist groups.

Ayling said her research shows that white supremacists advocate using violence against anti-fascist and anti-racist groups, and that they work to convince police that the anti-racists are a threat.

Ayling said she has been the target of a number of death threats online. She was one of two people named in threatening language vandals scrawled on UNC’s Unsung Founders Memorial and an outdoor art exhibit on campus on the morning of March 31, she said. Two people UNC has said are members of the Heirs to the Confederacy group have been charged in the vandalism and ordered not to return to campus.

Also this month, anti-Semitic posters were left on tables and bookshelves in UNC’s Davis Library.

On April 12, Jeff McCracken, UNC’s police chief and director of public safety, announced he would be retiring July 1.

Faculty petition

Also on Monday, Porlides, Ayling and other students attended a meeting of UNC’s Faculty Executive Committee, where history professor Jay Smith presented a petition with 100 of his colleagues’ signatures. It cited concerns about UNC police and asked the university administration to do a transparent, public investigation of events involving officers; to dismiss any officers who filed false police reports involving students; and look into possible connections between campus police and white-supremacist groups.

Smith asked the faculty group to push for the measures. The group, noting Guskiewicz’s announcement of the commission’s makeup and mission, voted to pass the petition along to the administration with an endorsement of the commission’s goals.

According to Guskiewicz, the Campus Safety Commission will “take a broad look at all aspects of community safety, including the need to build stronger relationships and communication between our campus community and campus police, and a better understanding of the safety and security needs and concerns of the larger campus community.”

Appointments to the commission will be for two years, he said, though student terms can be adjusted. The commission will meet monthly during the academic year and once over the summer, he said. The first meeting will be in early May.

The school also has hired consultant Chris Swecker, a former FBI assistant director, to review “several incidents that have occurred on our campus over the past weeks and months, so we can better understand the facts and incorporate lessons learned to strengthen our processes for best policing and emergency management practices,” Guskiewicz wrote. “We will work closely with our emergency management and public safety officials, the Campus Safety Commission and our future police chief to implement recommendations that emerge from these reviews. We will keep the campus community apprised of these recommendations and actions moving forward.”

Swecker was one of a team of consultants UNC asked for advice on what to do with Silent Sam after the statue was pulled to the ground last year. The consultants advised the UNC Board of Trustees not to return the monument to an open area on campus.

A group looking at options for what to do with the statue is not expected to issue a recommendation until at least May.

Commission members

Members of the Campus Safety Commission are:

Frank Baumgartner, Richard J. Richardson Distinguished Professor of Political Science, College of Arts & Sciences

Emily Blackburn, undergraduate student and former student body vice president

Robert L. Campbell, minister and former president, Chapel Hill-Carrboro (Orange County) Chapter of the NAACP

Brian Curran, former chief, Chapel Hill Police Department

De’Ivyion Drew, undergraduate student

Manny Garcia, undergraduate student

Michael Gerhardt, Samuel Ashe Distinguished Professor in Constitutional Law, School of Law

Lawrence Grossberg, interim director of graduate studies; co-director of the university program in cultural studies; distinguished adjunct professor of American studies; Morris Davis Professor of Communication Studies and Cultural Studies, College of Arts & Sciences

Manny Hernandez, Ph.D. candidate, department of geography, College of Arts & Sciences; outgoing president of the Graduate and Professional Student Federation

Jim Herrington, executive director of emerging partnerships and professor of the practice of health behavior, Gillings School of Global Public Health

Mary Beth Koza, executive director, Office of Environment, Health and Safety

Richard Myers, Henry Brandis Distinguished Professor of Law, School of Law

DeVetta Holman Nash, resiliency and student support programs coordinator, Office of Student Wellness

Desirée Rieckenberg, dean of students, Office of the Dean of Students

Quinton Smith, doctoral student, School of Social Work

Charles Streeter, database analyst, Office of Student Affairs Information Technology, and former chair, Employee Forum

Kim Strom-Gottfried, director, Office of Ethics Education and Policy Management; Smith P. Theimann Distinguished Professor for Ethics and Professional Practice, School of Social Work

Charles Branson Vickory, attorney from Mount Olive, NC and former district attorney

Brandon Washington, director of Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office

Maya Weinstein, professional student, School of Law

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