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UNC-Chapel Hill protests disperse after intense Tuesday with 30 arrests

Protesters pulled down an American flag and raised a Palestinian flag at UNC Chapel Hill's Polk Place.
Peyton Sickles
Protesters pulled down an American flag and raised a Palestinian flag at UNC Chapel Hill's Polk Place.

UNC-Chapel Hill officials erected a 6-foot fence around the flagpole at Polk Place after protesters pulled down the American flag that normally flies there and ran up a Palestine flag.

That brought interim Chancellor Lee Roberts out of his office in the nearby South Building with a police escort. He walked to the flagpole and watched as a group of counter-protesters pulled down the Palestine flag and began to re-raise the American flag.

"That flag represents all of us. To take down that flag and put up another flag no matter what other flag it is, that's antithetical to who we are, what this university stands for, and what we have done for 229 years," Roberts said. "That flag will stand here as long as I'm chancellor."

The American flag again came down briefly before being raised later in the afternoon. Then officials erected the larger fence around the flagpole, which remained there into Tuesday evening.

Pro-Palestinian protesters who had formed an encampment Sunday afternoon said they would not return Tuesday night, citing fear of a large police presence on campus.

During the afternoon, police used pepper spray in an attempt to disperse crowds. Tuesday morning, police broke up an encampment, making 30 arrests, most of whom were not students.

Graduate students of UNC-Chapel Hill protesting have formed their own group, "UNC GSLP: Graduate Students for the Liberation of Palestine." In an Instagram post published Tuesday, they condemned Roberts for bringing “armed police from around the state to arrest students and other Carolina community members exercising their First Amendment right to protest the UNC System’s complicity in the ongoing genocide against Palestinians and Israeli apartheid.” The group outlined a list of six demands, including halting police from being deployed to demonstrations and all charges being dropped against those arrested.

A group of UNC students also started an online petition to declare a vote of no confidence in Chancellor Lee Roberts for how Tuesday's events unfolded. As of Wednesday evening, it has garnered over 3,500 signatures.

WUNC's Eli Chen, Jay Price, Jason deBruyn and Mitchell Northam contributed to this report.

Stories, features and more by WUNC News Staff. Also, features and commentary not by any one reporter.