Students partner with civil rights group to reverse Silent Sam settlement

Students partner with civil rights group to reverse Silent Sam settlement

Read in The Daily Tar Heel 1/21/20

A group of UNC students and faculty partnered with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in a motion to intervene with the Board of Governors’ $2.5 million deal with the North Carolina Sons of Confederate Veterans. 

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law — a Washington, D.C.-based firm with a North Carolina regional office — was asked by students and faculty to take on the case, Managing Attorney Elizabeth Haddix said. 

She said the organization’s main criteria is that their work has a racial justice impact, combating deep, structural racism. Haddix said it is important to promote conversation that is civil, compassionate and fiercely truthful about these monuments. 

The group recently played a role in a Confederate monument case in Chatham County

“These Confederate monuments are a message to the African American community and for all of us on Jim Crow and racialized brutality,” she said.  

Haddix said the SCV does not have a legal claim to the Silent Sam monument.

“The court system is supposed to resolve conflicts between parties with adverse interests,” she said. “Parties must have legal authority to be in court at all, which is referred to as ‘standing.’”

Haddix said the SCV has no legal merit or standing.

“These are just really basic, fundamental rules of law,” she said.

The BOG, Haddix said, never intended to defend themselves against the SCV’s claims. This, she said, makes the settlement of $2.5 million an abuse of the adversarial process.

Mark Dorosin, managing attorney and a colleague of Haddix’s on the case, said the voice of students being completely shut out of this issue is a gross injustice. 

“The University is dedicated to truth,” Dorosin said. “The SCV and the lost-cause narrative that they promote is a historical lie. It’s a falsehood. It’s a misrepresentation of history and the legacy of discrimination in this country.”

There are still many unanswered questions about the deal, Haddix said. Money is the key question the public — and her clients — have about this case, she said. 

Haddix said she wonders what obligations and ties lawmakers and the BOG have to the SCV that would explain BOG Chairperson Randy Ramsey approaching the SCV in open negotiations.

The University has said that the source of the $2.5 million dollars is non-state funds. But Haddix and Dorosin said they recognize legal issues in this statement.  

“Without a lawsuit, it would not have been possible for a North Carolina public institution to transfer money — particularly $2.5 million — to a private organization,” Haddix said. 

Once money is in the hands of the University, Dorosin said, it can be considered public money. 

“Any University fund, whether they be from investments of private donations or interest income, can and must be used to further the University’s mission,” Haddix said. “In this regard, they are state funds.”

Dorosin mentioned the money the University has lost to the Silent Sam issue in addition to the $2.5 million trust. The Mellon Foundation pulled an anticipated $1.5 million dollar grant after the deal was announced, and the SCV has already been given $74,999 to keep Confederate protests off-campus. 

De’Ivyion Drew, a UNC sophomore involved in the case, said her decision to be part of legal action as a student connects to students’ earlier actions to take down Silent Sam themselves. 

Drew said she hopes the outcome of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law case is for the $2.5 million dollars to be returned in full to the University, along with the statue.  

There is a clause within the North Carolina Monuments Law, she said, outlining that a monument can be destroyed if it endangers public safety. She said this law should be used to destroy the statue. 

Drew said she wants the University to dedicate $25 million in addition to Guskiewicz’s $5 million initiative toward the History, Race and a Way Forward Commission. 

The money should be used to enhance The Sonja Hanes Stone Center for Black Culture and History, support diversity centers on campus, help students pay unexpected expenses and relieve student debt, she said. 

Attorneys said they hope the judge will nullify the consent order and dismiss the SCV’s complaint for lack of jurisdiction. 

“It’s a misuse of their educational investment,” Haddix said. “The BOG has misused resources that are supposed to go to students.” 

Dorosin said the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the UNC students and faculty they represent believe this case is critical to the University, the state and the country.

A decision will be made on this motion to intervene by Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour on Feb. 12.

“Students didn’t want hush money,” Drew said. “They want justice.”