Education

A ‘slap in the face’: UNC student activists dispute report about campus police

About two dozen UNC-Chapel Hill students and faculty members gathered Wednesday afternoon to protest a recent review of how UNC police officers handled a number of incidents over the past year.

The review, released Tuesday, said that in most cases police officers acted appropriately in arresting students and other anti-racist activists at protests and showed no favoritism toward neo-Confederate groups during the incidents.

The UNC students who hosted the event said the report is filled with factual errors and unjustly defends the actions of UNC police officers. They held hand-painted signs criticizing police and called for the abolition of the UNC police department while standing at Peace and Justice Plaza in Chapel Hill, across the street from where Confederate statue Silent Sam once stood on UNC’s campus.

“This report was designed to disparage students, to disparage student accounts and to uplift the authority of the police department at the expense of student lives and student safety,” said De’Ivyion Drew, a sophomore at UNC. “The findings will repetitively argue that the police officers were proper in every action that they took, which I find a blatant slap in the face.”

The investigation looked into four incidents that involved activists either protesting or supporting Confederate monument Silent Sam on UNC’s campus. It was done by a former FBI executive, which made it not objective, the students claim.

The review examined:

the inaction of officers who did not arrest an armed member of a “Confederate heritage’” group who came onto campus openly carrying a gun.

the arrest of several Silent Sam opponents and students on Sept. 8.

the arrest of graduate student and activist Maya Little who was charged with inciting a riot and assaulting an officer on Dec. 3,.

the vandalism of the Unsung Founders Memorial in March.

The only incident where officers were in the wrong, according to the report, was when they failed to arrest the armed man. The report admitted there were breakdowns in police procedure and found that a UNC police officer gave false testimony in court. However, it justified the arrests of student activists and found no evidence that officers were motivated by “favoritism towards the white supremacist cause.”

“It makes this assumption of criminality of all anti-racist protesters,” Calvin Deutschbein said. “And there’s this assumption of innocence for the others.”

Deutschbein, who helped organize Wednesday’s event, said the investigator points out problems and “sweeps them under the rug.”

The report inaccurately describes the events in question based on video and student accounts, he said, including mixing up identities of individuals who were arrested.

He said the report also shows specific details of bias and police misconduct, but doesn’t hold police accountable.

Gina Balamucki, a UNC law student who is working on the case of the student who was convicted based on a UNC police officer’s testimony, asked UNC police to fire the officer who testified.

“One of their officers committed perjury in a court of law in order to secure the false conviction of a student,” Balamucki said at the protest.

She’s still working to get the charges dropped and asked Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger to take a stand on the misconduct of UNC police.

“This [report] is a real strong argument in terms of downsizing the campus police department,” Deutschbein said. “I don’t feel like that would make me less safe.”

Deutschbein said the biggest argument he faces when advocating for abolishing police is that they’re needed if a shooter comes to campus. But, he said, this example only affirms his point because campus police didn’t arrest the armed intruder.

Drew agreed, saying police presence does not correlate to safety.

“I have to often find or develop or create my own forms of safety because the police will not offer that for me, and that is disappointing,” Drew said.

As a member of the Campus Safety Commission, Drew is tasked with assessing campus policing and making recommendations to improve the campus climate. She said she plans to continue to educate her peers and advocate for the abolition of police.

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Kate Murphy covers higher education for The News & Observer. Previously, she covered higher education for the Cincinnati Enquirer on the investigative and enterprise team and USA Today Network. Her work has won state awards in Ohio and Kentucky and she was recently named a 2019 Education Writers Association finalist for digital storytelling.
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