UNC-Chapel Hill’s Black Student Movement has delivered multiple lists of demands to the university’s administration over its 50-plus years on campus.
The first was in 1968, when they demanded the creation of the African, African American, and Diaspora Studies Department; more Black people in the administration; and better working conditions for staff. The most recent was a few weeks ago, when the 54th iteration of the group presented 13 demands to Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz’s administration, alongside the four demands they shared at a demonstration in support of Nikole Hannah-Jones.
Although Hannah-Jones declined the position at UNC’s School of Journalism and Media and took her talents to historically Black Howard University, the Black Student Movement (BSM) and other Black community groups aren’t letting the administration sidestep the systemic racism that plagues the state’s flagship university. Instead, BSM, the Carolina Black Caucus, and the UNC Black Graduate and Professional Student Association consolidated their groups’ demands for the university. In the end, they settled on nine action items that BSM president Taliajah Vann says she believes the school could accomplish within six months.
“Understand in the next few weeks and months, we are holding the university’s feet to the fire,” Vann said at a July 7 press conference. “We want to see action taken on these demands. These are actionable items.”
The shortlist focuses on safety and equity; the former has been especially pressing in recent weeks following the way that UNC Campus Police responded to protesters at the emergency Board of Trustees meeting to vote on Hannah-Jones’s tenure. The groups are calling for the termination of officer Rasheem Holland, who was recently promoted to interim police chief after former chief David Perry resigned.
The appointment was announced on July 6, one week after Holland was involved in a skirmish with students at the trustees meeting. Annabelle Friedman, a UNC-CH senior not involved with the Black Student Movement, was in attendance that day.
Friedman says it was nearing three p.m. when about 75 Black students, journalism professors, and others were allowed into the meeting. She notes that all of the more than a dozen officers lining the hall to the meeting room were white, except for Holland and a Hispanic cop with the surname Gonzalez.
Once the meeting started, the trustees voted to close the meeting without explanation, and the demonstrators were told to leave. She said most of the onlookers left quickly, but four Black students—two men and two women—stayed inside holding protest signs.
“The police ignored me,” Friedman, who is white, told the INDY. “There were two other white women inside who were ignored as well.”
Friedman says once the police hustled the students out into the hallway, “the pushing became more aggressive.” The five or six officers involved also started shoving the students, she added. She described Holland as “the most aggressive officer” and said he seemed upset that a Black female student told him “he was a puppet for the master.”
On videos posted to Twitter, you can see a hand holding a cell phone strike one of the students in the face, knocking off her mask. Friedman confirms that it was Holland, although she isn’t sure if it was before or after the puppetry comment.
“He hit her on her left cheek bone with his left hand,” Friedman said. “You can see it on the video, and [he] wasn’t in a defensive position.”
On July 6, BSM released a statement that “unequivocally condemns” Holland’s promotion to interim police chief, saying it creates “a clear and present threat to the safety of Black students.”
The next day, Guskiewicz announced that an “external investigation” would be conducted into the department’s behavior and that his team would be assembling “a Campus Climate Plan to address the concerns shared by students, faculty and staff.”
It hearkened back to the 2019 external review of how UNCPD interacted with activists protesting Silent Sam’s existence on campus. The external review, conducted by former FBI assistant director Chris Swecker, determined that police acted accordingly, contradicting the experiences of students, footage on social media, and body cam footage that showed officers at the Silent Sam protests praising a neo-Confederate outfit in Alamance County and using slurs when speaking about protesters. Additionally, Swecker went on a Fox News show this year to say that the January 6 insurrection had signs of being implemented by “antifa.”
“I am grateful for the continued advocacy of the Black Student Movement, the Carolina Black Caucus and the Black Graduate and Professional Student Association,” Guskiewicz said.
Another focus of the group’s safety demands is the full integration of the UNC Anti-Racist Alert System, a text system created by the Carolina community, with the school’s official safety mechanism, “Alert Carolina.” The system’s necessity has been cited repeatedly, including this weekend after two members of the neo-Confederate group Alamance County Taking Back Alamance County brought Confederate flags to the campus’s Unsung Founders Memorial, where they spit and threw dirt on it.
De’Ivyion Drew, UNC senior and member of the Campus Safety Commission for the last two years, mentioned at the press conference that the group has submitted more than 50 recommendations since its inception, but the university has not followed through.
“The Campus Safety Commission cannot be a Band-Aid on a gaping wound,” Drew says. “We will continue to struggle to bring marginalized students and others in our community into a space where each student feels valued, and included, but we cannot do it alone and we cannot succeed in this current environment.”
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