On Tuesday—the first day of class at UNC-Chapel Hill and a year to the day after activists tore down Silent Sam—campus police surrounded and searched an antiracist student leader while he was walking to class for allegedly violating a trespass order barring him from McCorkle Place.
The order, however, had been rescinded seven months ago.
In a Twitter thread that has been shared more than five hundred times, Tim Osborn—a twenty-four-year-old graduate student and instructor in the Physics and Astronomy Department—wrote that the trespass order the officers were referring to “came as a result of bogus charges brought against me in the aftermath of the Silent Sam toppling, and that trespass was officially rescinded January 30th of this year, after the charges were dismissed. But that didn’t matter today as four cops surrounded me, grabbed my shoulders, pulled my hands behind my back and forced me to sit on the ‘free speech’ wall as they questioned me about the contents of my backpack, what I was doing on campus, and humiliated me for being emotional.”
UNC Police spokesman Randy Young broadly confirmed Osborn’s account.
“Within approximately ten minutes,” Young said in a statement, “officers verified that the student’s trespass warning had been rescinded, and he was allowed to proceed.”
The incident follows the departure of former UNC Police Chief Jeff McCracken, who came under fire for his handling of the Silent Sam controversy. On Monday, the university announced the hiring of David Perry—currently the police chief at Florida State University, who himself was criticized for tipping off FSU’s football program about a sexual assault allegation against star quarterback Jameis Winston—to fill McCracken’s position.
For years, antiracist activists have accused campus police of treating them with a heavy hand and violent neo-Confederates with kid gloves. This spring, some students called for the police force to be disbanded after officers failed to arrest a neo-Confederate activist who carried a firearm on campus, a violation of state law.
The night Silent Sam fell, Osborn says, a neo-Confederate named Joshua Pennington threatened him with a knife. Following a story I wrote for Triad City Beat that mentioned Osborn’s allegation, Pennington sent me a Facebook message vehemently denying it. “I was searched by police and I have nine witnesses that were with me that also prove you’re a piece-of-shit liar,” he wrote. (UNC Police could not confirm that Pennington had been searched.)
Ahead of a protest organized by Three Percenter and neo-Confederate groups a few days later, Pennington wrote on Facebook, “Verbal doesn’t work with these people. They want violence and a war. I say we show them how violent we can be. We need doers, not talkers!”
At that protest, on August 25, 2018, Pennington and Osborn got into a tussle, photographs obtained by the INDY appear to show. A criminal summons accused Osborn of “grabbing a person involved in a fight from behind and throwing him to the ground.”
Following Osborn’s arrest, some of his colleagues in the Physics and Astronomy Department came to his defense, writing in a statement to The Daily Tar Heel that he and another department member had been unjustly arrested during demonstrations following Silent Sam’s toppling, and that Osborn had been threatened.
“Their accounts are well-corroborated, and we believe them,” they wrote. “By ignoring these threats, the university has fostered an unsafe learning environment.”
The Orange County District Attorney’s Office dismissed the charge against Osborn in October, saying the case was “fatally defective,” as the “other party [was] not named and still unknown.” The trespass order against him, however, remained in place until January, during which time he was not allowed to enter McCorkle Place, which formerly housed Silent Sam.
His and other trespass orders were issued by the campus police, and students had to appeal to the administration to get them rescinded. In Osborn’s case, UNC agreed to do so in January.
Pennington was not charged with a crime related to the alleged threat or the incident on August 25.
Osborn declined to comment for this story, saying he preferred to let his Twitter thread speak for itself.
“I hate interacting with cops in any form, and pretty much immediately feel a panic attack coming whenever I’m forced to,” Osborn tweeted. “So that’s how I started my first day of a new semester, humiliated and afraid on my own campus, harassed by a fucking deputized street gang that has been targeting antiracist activists, and black and brown folks specifically, for years.”
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