Chapel Hill, NC – Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue told officers to give protesters “lots of space” and to “stay way out” from the crowds who eventually toppled the Silent Sam Confederate monument at the University of North Carolina (UNC) on Aug. 20, according to the chief’s emails and texts.
The content of Chief Blue’s correspondence with officers involved with the destructive rioters was contained in pages of texts and emails obtained by WRAL.
During the exchanges, which began at approximately 6:30 p.m., Chief Blue asked about the size of the crowds at the campus and told officers to be on high alert for counter protesters and individuals wearing masks.
“Looks like about 200 people. Making speeches. Crowd is calm,” an early text to Chief Blue read. “They saw a couple of counter folks moving up from the planetarium. They [are] keeping eyes on them.”
He received more updates as the crowd moved towards McCorckle place, where the statue of Silent Sam was displayed.
"Ok. Monitor the masked folks. Keep our folks off McCorkle place for now,” Chief Blue instructed, according to WRAL.
At 7:35 p.m., the chief ordered the “plainclothes guys” to “really look out for counter-protesters to arrive.”
“The longer they take with the statue the more time Folks have to arrive,” he added.
By 9 p.m., just before the statue was toppled, Chief Blue told his officers to step away from the riotous crowd.
“Let’s give them lots of space…do not engage [with the] Crowd at statue. Stay way out,” he texted, according to WRAL. “WRAL shows CHPD guys too close. Back up.”
Shortly thereafter, the crowed yanked the monument from its pedestal, sending it crashing onto the ground, video footage showed.
The protesters screamed in celebration, as they jumped and kicked the statue of the facedown Confederate soldier.
The statue was erected in 1913 in honor of the students who left UNC to serve in the Civil War, according to The Graduate School of the University of North Carolina.
At least 40 percent of the students enrolled at the university between 1861 and 1865 enlisted, “a record not equaled by any other institution,” the graduate school website read.
Chief Blue soon encountered backlash from community members who were angered at the department’s inaction during the vandalism that occurred right in front of them, WRAL reported.
"Any police force who will stand by, watch a crime committed, and do nothing about it, have failed in their sworn duties to the people," William Richardson wrote in an email to the chief, according to the news outlet.
"When do you get to decide what laws you will enforce?” a man named “Danny” asked in another message. “If this is what you call law enforcement it is time for you to retire.”
“A police officer standing guard at Silent Sam sports a tattoo with the three percenter symbol,” photographer Daniel Hosterman captioned the photo in social media posts. “These ‘patriot’ groups have been known to openly protect racists, fascists and neo-Nazis including on A12 2017 in Charlottesville and in Portland for the Patriot Prayer brawls.”
Despite the criticism, Chief Blue thanked the department in an email on Aug. 21.
"I'm understandably proud of our agency's history of protecting people,” the chief’s email read, according to WRAL. “All who were working last night most certainly did that well.”
Three individuals were arrested during the riot for misdemeanor offenses including defacing a public monument and misdemeanor rioting.
No injuries were reported.
You can watch footage of the Silent Sam monument vandalism in the video below: