Opinion: Daily Journal

Silent Sam must be restored

Wiki Commons image
Wiki Commons image

Politicians tell people what they want to hear. Leaders tell people what they need to hear, even if they don’t want to listen.

I don’t envy the challenge faced by Gov. Roy Cooper and other officials who favor removing the “Silent Sam” memorial and other Confederate monuments from the public square to less-traveled locations such as cemeteries, battlefields, museums, or storage. They have some reasonable arguments for their position.

But this is no longer about the proper remembrance and interpretation of the Civil War, the historical context of monument placement during the early 20th century, or what the symbols mean to North Carolinians today. Those are matters for public debate, for legislative deliberation, for editorials and speeches intended to change either the minds or the identities of the relevant public officials. Let’s collectively label such options Plan A.

For those who contend that Silent Sam and similar objects on campuses form a hostile education environment for students and thus contravene federal law, the proper place to present that case is a court of law. That’s Plan B.

For those who feel strongly enough to take direct action, there is also Plan C: civil disobedience. You publicly break a law you believe to be unjust, prepared to accept the consequences and by doing so advance your cause. Civil disobedience affirms rather than weakens the rule of law, as long as your acts do not threaten the lives, liberty, or property of others. In this case, protesters could have, say, formed a human wall around Silent Sam and refused to move without being arrested.

As Martin Luther King, Jr. famously put it, “any man who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust and willingly accepts the penalty by staying in jail in order to arouse the conscience of the community on the injustice of the law is at that moment expressing the very highest respect for law.”

These are the only alternatives available to individuals with strong opinions who must live in a free society with other individuals who may have strongly divergent opinions. There is no Plan D.

The Silent Sam protesters contend that reasoned discourse was taking too long, that they had not yet achieved their objective and were thus justified in assembling as a mob, erecting barriers, throwing smoke bombs, and yanking the statue down. But impatience is not a vote-multiplier. Outrage is not a get-out-of-jail-free card.

Many North Carolinians are impatient or outraged about other causes. Anti-abortion activists, for example, aren’t just upset about alleged hate speech. They believe unborn children are being killed every day, and that some perpetrators are indirectly subsidized by tax dollars in the form of grants to clinics for “family planning” or “women’s health.” Should pro-life activists take the law into their own hands by obstructing, defacing, or destroying abortion clinics? Should North Carolinians with a strong dislike for other historical figures depicted in statues, plaques, nameplates, and artworks on public property be free to break or remove them?

After Silent Sam was toppled, Gov. Cooper said the right thing, that “violent destruction of public property has no place in our communities.” University of North Carolina leaders condemned “mob rule” and correctly observed that the perpetrators had threatened public safety — not being masonry contractors or demolition experts, the perpetrators lacked not just the authority but the expertise to do safely what they did. They recklessly endangered themselves and others.

The hard part comes next, however. To allow the mob to achieve its objective would reward criminality, weaken the rule of law, and set a dangerous precedent. What might the next mob do?

Silent Sam must be placed back on its pedestal and protected from future assault, perhaps with a plexiglass case, as Mecklenburg County did three years ago after vandals repeatedly defaced a Confederate monument. Both the criminals and the authorities who failed to intervene must be held responsible. While most North Carolinians will agree with these decisions, some won’t. They’ll be furious. Countering their fury effectively will require leadership, not political calculation. It will be difficult. That’s the job.

John Hood (@JohnHoodNC) is chairman of the John Locke Foundation and appears on “NC SPIN,” broadcast statewide Fridays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 12:30 p.m. on UNC-TV.

  • frosty888

    The problem is that Plan C is allowed to work and has become a tool for the left with collusion (to use a popular word it seems) both direct and duplictous. Since, and probably before, the Vietnam War there has been a double standard of justice. The left’s law breakers get a pass and everyone else is attacked to the fullest extent of the law, sometimes beyond.

    The “silent majority” has let this go on having faith in the people and the Constitution. As radical acts become more and more petty and blatant, these people have been waiting, so far in vain, for the laws to be upheld. At some point there will be a tipping point, at least for some, where it is seen that the rule of law no longer applies. Is Sam that tipping point? Probably not, but people are watching for leadership in both the UNC system and State Government to see where they stand, with the law or the mob.

    • Junius Daniel

      Many are at the tipping point in this state, Dear Frosty, many are not … not yet.

      How many tippers it takes to tip is a matter know one knows.

      I believe that Lt. Governor Forest and Speaker Berger, if none other, will see this issue through, and our monuments, as you suggest, will not be the criterion upon which we tip.

      There are, however, many other issues in this here country that, as well, may lead to a tipping.

      Only time will tell about that.

  • Geo

    “Confederate Monument” … not exactly…do a little research. Today’s criminals are often tomorrow’s heroes.

  • bruce






  • Junius Daniel

    This goes far beyond a matter of law and order. It is a matter of protecting our state from Genocide, and if you think that hyperbole, these are 2 of the 5 measures from is The UN Draft of 1994 on the matter of Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and whereupon the legal definition of Genocide is baset …

    (a) Any action which has the aim or effect of depriving them of their integrity as distinct peoples, or of their cultural values or ethnic identities;

    d) Any form of assimilation or integration by other cultures or ways of life imposed on them by legislative, administrative or other measures;

    As it stands, The Native White Tarheels are being subjected to all 5 counts of Genocide, but, in the case of the would-be eradication of Silent Sam, these are the two counts that apply.

  • Junius Daniel

    As to this issue being complicated, I don’t think it is : history shows that either elected
    officials enforce the laws and protect the citizenry, or someone else

  • Junius Daniel

    I wonder what Mr. Hood thinks are the odds that what he recommends be done, is actually done?