Cooper: UNC has the authority to remove ‘Silent Sam’

Silent Sam (A.J. Janavel/CBS North Carolina)

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Gov. Roy Cooper said Wednesday he still feels UNC has the authority to remove an on-campus Confederate monument that was at the center of a Tuesday night protest.

Cooper’s comments come after he wrote a letter to leaders of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill saying they have the legal authority to “take immediate measures” to remove the controversial Confederate memorial known as Silent Sam if they believe there’s “a real risk to public safety.”

He made the statement in a letter that came in response to a written request from high-ranking university officials asking that Cooper convene the North Carolina Historical Commission, potentially the first step in removing the statue.

RELATED: Cooper to UNC: ‘Take immediate measures’ on Silent Sam if there’s ‘a real threat to public safety’

The letter from university officials cited “significant safety and security threats,” but stopped short of ever directly advocating the statue’s removal.

A 2015 North Carolina law protects Confederate monuments from local authorities taking them down without the approval of the North Carolina Historical Commission.

Despite Cooper’s comments, UNC leaders reiterated Tuesday they did not have the legal power to remove the monument known as “Silent Sam.”

“I think the law is broader than that. I think the University does have the authority to make the decision to move it, if it believes that it is…creates a dangerous condition to public safety,” Cooper said.

Cooper said the 2015 law needs to be repealed, as it makes it difficult for places like UNC to make decisions on monuments like Silent Sam.

“I hope when the General Assembly comes back into session that they will look at this because we need thoughtful discussions about this, and local governments and universities need to be able to make these decisions,” Cooper said.

Hundreds rallied at Silent Sam Tuesday night in an effort to have the monument removed. Three people were arrested during the demonstration, including a 19-year-old UNC student.

“Clearly there is a lot of emotion about this and it is important that we discuss these issues rationally,” Cooper said. “I think it is important that we respect each other and listen to each other’s opinions and that we do it without violence and destruction.”

A handful of protesters remained at the statue Wednesday and said they would stay there until Silent Sam is removed.

According to UNC’s website, the North Carolina division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy commissioned the memorial in 1913 to honor the 321 UNC alumni who fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War.

CBS North Carolina reached out to UNC officials several times Wednesday, as well as went to Chancellor Carol Folt’s office.

UNC officials said Folt was unavailable and they would respond to our questions with statements.

During last night’s rally, protesters also asked where the Chancellor was.

“Chancellor Folt has a lot of responsibility to her students to protecting her students to treating them with dignity. She has a responsibility i think right now is not being taken seriously enough,” said Mario Benavente, a senior at UNC.

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