Outrage over disturbing incidents is justified
On two of the past three weekends, members of pro-Confederacy groups have visited our campus to continue to protest the toppling and removal of the Confederate soldier monument. I did not write after the first incident because one event, although deplorable, could be an anomaly. When the second event occurred, I felt compelled to respond. Two events could be the beginning of a trend.
When pro-Confederacy protesters arrived on March 16, some carried guns openly or concealed. I was not there and have no information that is not public. I write as a member of the campus community and dean of the Gillings School of Global Public Health. Guns are a public health issue, as I have written on numerous occasions. Health inequities also are a public health issue, and the systemic health inequities minorities and other groups face in the U.S. are long-standing. For African Americans, these inequities have their historical origins in the ways Africans, especially, were brought to this country and the conditions to which they were subjected. Inexcusable inequities persist. In public health, we are working to understand the past and right the wrongs.
From all accounts, including this Daily Tar Heel story, the individuals who entered campus armed on March 16th were neither arrested nor issued trespass notices, nor were their weapons confiscated by University Police officers with whom they interacted. I share the outrage about the incident expressed by our students and others. On March 22, Interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz sent a University-wide message promising an examination of policies and procedures and future enforcement of laws prohibiting weapons on campus. This examination is needed urgently.
However, at 1:30 am Sunday, March 30, members of the same group again were on campus and were captured on surveillance tape as they defaced the Unsung Founders Memorial with racist, hate-filled, threatening words. These threats named specific students. They similarly vandalized an art installation in front of Hanes Art Center. The interim chancellor’s message Sunday to the University indicates that the most recent incident is being investigated appropriately, and action is being taken to arrest the perpetrators.
The interim chancellor’s response can mark a new beginning for our campus — one in which, to use his language, “our most fundamental community values and the safety of our campus” will be upheld and protected. With the appearance of guns on campus, this is not a free speech issue. In the absence of strong action, white supremacy has been emboldened. It now is an issue of protecting our students, faculty, staff and visitors from threats, vandalism and potential violence. In the presence of inflammatory rhetoric and guns, anything can happen.
Many in our community say that University Police officers have lacked the restraint shown to pro-Confederacy demonstrators in their interactions with anti-racist demonstrators on campus. For example, last September, when students organized a canned food drive and pot-luck gathering to counter a visit by pro-Confederacy protesters, police officers confiscated the donated cans lest they be employed as weapons.
Why is it OK to carry a gun to a demonstration, but cans of food brought for donation to the hungry are considered dangerous and confiscated on the spot? Comparing soup cans vs. guns: there’s no contest. Cans of soup were not designed to kill or maim when used as directed. Guns have that capacity. It is the guns that should concern us most. They don’t belong in an educational community, which is why it is illegal to carry guns on campus.
Even if individuals are ignorant of the law prohibiting guns on educational property in North Carolina — as some have claimed the March 16 protesters were — why would anyone carry a gun to a demonstration? For what purpose except a nefarious one? Recent local coverage of the events in question suggest a more complex picture of the interactions between campus police and protesters.
These events undermine the safety of our community and our commitment to diversity and inclusion. They diminish our beliefs in fairness and justice. I can only imagine how our students of color felt and feel, much less those who were specifically targeted with viciousness.
It’s important to connect people’s behavior to their intent, and some have demonstrated repeatedly in word and deed that their intent when they come to our campus is to intimidate or worse. We must be adamant that racist acts and threats will not be tolerated on this campus, and that weapons, especially guns, are always prohibited. We must back up these statements with action. Furthermore, we must be adamant that perpetrators of white supremacist acts and threats, and those who bring weapons to our campus will be apprehended. And we should work even harder to ensure that this campus is a model of inclusive excellence.
A Notice from CBC Leadership
On Saturday, March 16th, a group of armed demonstrators were present on campus near Memorial Hall. Photos shared with us by CBC members, and other concerned community members, depicted the armed group interacting collegially with UNC Police officers with weapons in full view. No campus alert was sent out and no arrests were made. CBC expressed outrage and concern via social media and by sending the following statement to our interim Chancellor, Chief of Police, and Associate Vice Chancellor for Campus Safety and Risk Management. We intend to keep you informed as more information becomes available. If you would like to express your concerns individually you can do so by contacting UNC Administrators or by filing a report with Ethics and Integrity. If you need support, or would like to share your concerns with us, we encourage members to remain engaged with us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
– CBC Steering Committee
Message from Interim Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz
Dear Carolina Community,
I want to make you aware of two racist actions that took place on our campus early this morning.
At approximately 1:30 a.m. Sunday, two individuals defaced the Unsung Founders Memorial, writing racist and other deplorable language on it. University Police contacted the facilities department, and the Memorial was cleaned. In addition, University Police discovered that an installation outside Hanes Art Center was also vandalized with hateful language and racial slurs today. Both incidents are being investigated.
University Police are in the process of obtaining a warrant for the arrest of one of the individuals who is known to be affiliated with the Heirs to the Confederacy and was identified on surveillance tape. University Police are reviewing the tape to identify the other person involved.
These events challenge not only our most fundamental community values, but also the safety of our campus. Lawless behavior will not be tolerated, and those found responsible will be held accountable for their actions.
If you receive threats or ever feel your safety is threatened, including on social media, contact police by dialing 911.
Kevin M. Guskiewicz
The views expressed in this post are Barbara Rimer’s and have been endorsed by the Dean’s Council of the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. They do not represent the views and policies of The University of North Carolina.