A protester accused of helping yank down a Confederate statue at North Carolina's flagship university said Thursday that the community brought it down with "a righteous show of people power" after university leaders declined their pleas to lawfully remove it.
Raul Jimenez, who was previously acquitted of helping topple another Confederate statue in nearby Durham, briefly appeared in court on misdemeanor charges of rioting and defacing a public monument. Two others have later court dates on the same charges of helping to tear down the confederate statue "Silent Sam" at UNC Chapel Hill on Aug. 20.
University and legislative leaders have demanded a hard look at how a "highly organized" group of protesters used banners to conceal their preparations to bring down the statue with a rope — and why police were non-confrontational. Thursday's hearing came a day after public records revealed that a town police chief assisting the campus force with crowd control told his officers to stay back not long before the statue fell.
Asked outside the court if he knew about advance plans to topple "Silent Sam," Jimenez said: "I think what happened is the community came together and made a decision, whether it was that night ... whenever it was; that decision was to take down the statue."
UNC Chancellor Carol Folt "has been asked by students and faculty to take this statue down, trying to go through legal channels ... but she has refused and so the community took action," he said in an interview.
Jimenez declined to say whether he's guilty of toppling the monument. But said he and the others will fight the charges, calling the takedown "a righteous show of people power."
Several-dozen supporters packed the courtroom, some wearing buttons with the slogan "Do It Like Durham & Chapel Hill."
Tensions remain high more than a week after the bronze statue was taken down. The crowd who joined Jimenez got into back-and-forth yelling and chants Thursday with a smaller group who came to support a pro-Confederate demonstrator charged with assault. Barry Brown wore a sticker on his shirt that said "Save Our Monuments" while he appeared in court on a charge of hitting an anti-statue protester during follow-up demonstrations Saturday in Chapel Hill.
One truck drove by with small Confederate flags and another played "Dixie," but there was no physical confrontation.
Brown did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
Meanwhile, text messages and emails obtained through a public records request show Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue told his officers, who were backing up campus police, to stay back just before the statue was toppled during the Aug. 20 protest. WRAL-TV was first to report on the documents, which were later released to other news outlets including The Associated Press. Messages show that Blue instructed officers "Let's give them lots of space" and "stay way out."
UNC police have primary responsibility for patrolling the campus, but the two departments assist each other. A separate AP records request seeking information from university officials is pending.
Silent Sam stood in a main campus quad since 1913. It came down about a year after another Confederate statue in Durham was felled by protesters using a ladder and a rope, while deputies took video but didn't intervene. A Durham judge found Jimenez not guilty of defacing that monument and dismissed cases against two others after prosecutors had problems proving the identity of protesters shown on video. The Durham district attorney later dismissed charges against the remaining five.