Chapel Hill News

Vandals strike Chapel Hill courthouse, UNC’s Silent Sam again

Silent Sam defaced for second time in six weeks

Sometime overnight, the phrase "Who is Sandra Bland?" was painted on the base of the statue, which honors school alumni who fought for the Confederacy and died in the Civil War. Bland, a Texas woman, died while in police custody after a traffic s
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Sometime overnight, the phrase "Who is Sandra Bland?" was painted on the base of the statue, which honors school alumni who fought for the Confederacy and died in the Civil War. Bland, a Texas woman, died while in police custody after a traffic s

Vandals spraypainted graffiti on a Civil War statue on the UNC campus for a second time, while across Franklin Street, police found similar graffiti scrawled on the front of the Chapel Hill courthouse.

UNC students heading to the first day of classes Tuesday found crews blasting the words “Who is Sandra Bland?” from the Silent Sam statue and from the courthouse, which also houses a branch of the U.S. Postal Service. The graffiti was gone by noon.

Bland is the activist who was found dead July 13 in a Texas jail cell. Her hanging death has been ruled a suicide, but others cite it as the latest example of minorities who have died in police custody.

A Chapel Hill police officer found the damage to the courthouse at 4:16 a.m. Tuesday, according to reports. Lt. Josh Mecimore, a Chapel Hill police spokesman, said the officer didn’t see any damage to the courthouse when she passed by around 3 a.m.

Campus police think the damage to the statue may have happened late Monday night or early Tuesday morning, UNC Public Safety spokesman Randy Young said.

UNC condemned the vandalism in a statement.

“Over the past few days, hundreds of faculty, staff and members of the Carolina community have come together to welcome first-year students and returning students,” spokesman Jim Gregory said. “This is what Carolina is all about, and this includes our commitment to free speech and open dialogue on all issues, no matter how emotional and at times painful. Vandalism like this is unfortunate because it is the antithesis of open discussion and the traditions and principles for which the University stands.”

Tuesday marked the second time since the July 4 weekend that vandals have spraypainted the statue, installed in 1913 as a memorial to 321 alumni who died in the Civil War and students who joined the Confederate Army. The statue was scrawled in the first incident with the words “Murderer,” “KKK” and “Black Lives Matter.”

A crew, after that incident, applied a special sealer to Silent Sam that was supposed to make cleanup easier in the future. While UNC officials said in July there were no plans to step up patrols in the area, Young declined to comment Tuesday on how officers might respond to the latest incident.

They are working with Chapel Hill police to investigate the vandalism, Young said.

He encouraged anyone who may have seen something suspicious Monday night or Tuesday morning to call 911 or contact campus police at 919-962-8100 or the Chapel Hill Police Department at 919-968-2760.

The state legislature tightened the penalties this year for graffiti vandalism.

The current law, which applies to statues, monuments and public buildings, makes graffiti a Class 2 misdemeanor. The harshest penalty, for someone with five or more convictions, is two months in jail.

Changes scheduled to take effect Dec. 1, however, would rank the first two offenses as Class 1 misdemeanors, punishable with a fine of at least $500 and up to 24 hours of community service. Subsequent incidents would be prosecuted as Class H felonies, requiring a minimum sentence of four to five months in prison or a similar term of supervised probation.

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