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.
University officials warned the campus Friday afternoon that there might be a rally Saturday in the area where Silent Sam had stood. They said they support First Amendment rights and would be working with law-enforcement officials to protect people.
“We do not know for sure what groups may attend, but we are mindful that the current atmosphere is highly charged, and protests that begin peacefully do not always remain that way," the message read. "For this reason, we urge you not to attend. For those who do attend, please know that we will do all we can to protect and keep everyone safe.”
University officials said they had recently learned some students and others had received death threats, and urged anyone feeling threatened to call 911.
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 on social media this week 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.
He also said the statue would be restored within 90 days as required by law.
Altha Cravey, an assoicate professor at UNC who has been deeply involved with efforts to move Silent Sam, said Friday, “The charges should be dropped. These people are heroes.”
Student government leaders said in a statement Friday evening, "The UNC Executive Branch stands with its student activists and concerned citizens who have tirelessly fought for the removal of Silent Sam from our campus. Statues of bigotry and white supremacy have no place on our campus, nor do the sentiments and ideologies for which they stand.”
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.