UNC Says It Can’t Legally Remove Confederate Statue, Despite Governor’s Guidance

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill said on Tuesday that it did not have the legal authority to remove a Confederate monument from its campus, despite guidance from Gov. Roy Cooper suggesting that administrators “take immediate measures” if they feel there is a risk to public safety.

The announcement came just hours before a planned demonstration by protesters demanding the removal of the statue, commonly known as Silent Sam. The monument was erected in 1913 and stands as a memorial to alumni who served in the Confederate Army.

The university asked Governor Cooper, a Democrat, for help with campus security at tonight’s rally, and to convene a state historical commission to decide the fate of the statue. In response, Mr. Cooper advised the university to take the path that other institutions have in recent days — Duke University removed a statue of Robert E. Lee — if they feel there is a real risk.

A law signed in 2015 by Governor Cooper’s Republican predecessor, Pat McCrory, dictated that the North Carolina Historical Commission must give permission for any state-owned statue, monument, plaque, or marker on public property to be altered. Mr. Cooper said immediate danger would allow the university to remove the monument, but the university said in its statement on Tuesday that it wasn’t that simple.

The university, where classes started on Tuesday, said it was “caught between conflicting legal interpretations of the statute from the Governor and other legal experts.”

“Based on law enforcement agencies’ assessments,” the statement continued, “we continue to believe that removing the Confederate monument is in the best interest of the safety of our campus, but the university can act only in accordance with the laws of the State of North Carolina.”

On campus, fences have been set up to keep protesters from damaging public property ahead of the evening rally.

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