Three people were charged Friday in connection with the toppling of a Confederate statue at the University of North Carolina, for rioting and defacing a public monument.
The bronze and marble statue of a young soldier holding a gun, erected by the Daughters of the Confederacy in 1913 to honor UNC men who died fighting in the Civil War, had become a hated symbol for some on campus. On Monday night, chanting protesters gathered around the monument, known as Silent Sam, and used ropes to pull it down.
The thud of its fall brought cheers from many of those who watched both in person and from afar, and condemnation from others who said they were shocked that a historic monument had been torn down by a mob.
Randy Young, a spokesman for the UNC-Chapel Hill Police, said in a statement Friday the three people named in the warrants are not affiliated with the university. “Each faces charges of ‘misdemeanor riot’ and ‘misdemeanor defacing of a public monument.’ The UNC Police investigation is ongoing, and additional arrests may occur.”
A member of the UNC System board of governors, Thom Goolsby, said he was appalled by the desecration of the monument, and demanded answers. He asked questions such as whether the campus police stood down and allowed it to be toppled, why more officers weren’t called to the scene, whether criminal charges would be brought, and what plans there were to restore and protect the statue in the future.
The university’s chancellor, Carol Folt, said Thursday afternoon they were monitoring social media and preparing for possible future events. She said they would not relax their vigilance while they investigate what happened.
Silent Sam was one of many historic sites across the country that have become symbols for people, rallying points to promote heritage or protest racism. The statue has been a flash point on the state flagship campus for years. But after a white-supremacist rally to protect a Confederate monument in Charlottesville turned violent last year, hundreds of people in Chapel Hill gathered at the statue and chanted, “Take it down!”
Confederate statues were torn down in other cities, or removed by officials. In nearby Durham last year, protesters took down a Confederate statue, and on the Duke University campus, people splashed paint on a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
Last week, the president of Duke University announced that they would leave an empty space where the Lee statue had stood, as a means of evoking a painful reckoning with the country’s past.
Folt said Thursday it was too soon to say what might happen to Silent Sam, as university officials are focused on the investigation and working to ensure safety on campus.
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