A Campus divided. A flag ripped down. No hope in sight: domestic or abroad.

Post-protest aftermath in front of pictured Wilson Library. Photo Credits to Thomas Hicks.

COMMUNITY NEWS

By Thomas Hicks
Student Intern Correspondent

I walked out of class around 2 p.m. on the last day of April. It was what UNC-Chapel Hill students call LDOC (last day of class). I am a senior leaving my last class and got out early after Professor John Sweeney’s last class before retirement. I ran by academic advising to make sure I had all my requirements in order for graduation and to attend commencement. I exited my school’s building, Carroll Hall, right around 3 p.m.

That’s when I saw the protest.

People had been starting to gather when I went to class earlier. It seemed relatively normal. But people were chanting; crowds were beginning to gather. Upon exiting, I and other students were just in shock. The yelling, palpable tension, something unclear going on with the flag.

There were bottles being tossed, trash scattered and chants emanating from protesters and counter-protesters. At one point one protester in a mask peeled off and ran from two college- aged males chasing him. There was an inner crowd who were really involved and then thin herds of students surrounding, trying to see what was going on.

Shortly after arriving I saw the American flag being hoisted up by a group of guys. Later it would be reported that this was largely a group of fraternity brothers and other students. Apparently the flag had been taken down earlier, and a Palestinian flag had replaced it. Interim Chancellor Lee Roberts then replaced it with a new American flag, and these students were attempting to protect the new flag.

Group of UNC students hoisting the newly placed American flag. Photo Credits to Thomas Hicks.

One student who was in that crowd described being in the middle of the flag re-raising and having things tossed at him and others.

“There’s stuff being thrown at us, cans, papers, whatever. The Chancellor, his suit jacket soaked with water, is soaking a bunch of us. People are in our faces.”

Later, that group of students took the flag down and reportedly gave it to the police to protect it, leaving the Quadrangle flag pole flagless.

I grew up in North Carolina. I was born, bred, and raised wearing metaphorical Carolina blue-tinted glasses to see the world. My dad is a lifelong fan. My mom was the first generation in her family to go to college, and that college was UNC. This is the only place I truly wanted to attend college. It was the only campus. It was the only student body that I wanted to join. And that campus and student body were divided—more than I had ever seen it.

I’m a journalist. An aspiring one, at least. But I had only covered sports. Or pitched other journalists’ stories to news outlets as a PR rep. But this felt rare, sad and worth documenting all at the same time. I felt a rush of adrenaline because I knew as if this should be recorded on the ground and not solely from some immobile broadcast cameras from local and regional outlets. This needed to be documented

I rushed to my car, grabbed my camera and was back in about 15 minutes.

Upon returning, things had started to die down a little bit.

I started taking pictures, filming videos, talking to friends I saw, and just trying to piece together what I had just seen at my beloved school, on those, at least to me, hallowed grounds.

I interviewed several people. Some anonymous, some on record. Some of it was just audio. Some on camera. People who were Pro-Palestine; people who were Pro-Israel. Some were students, some not.

An older man holding a sign supporting Palestine described the scene of the Palestinian flag being raised by protesters:

“They took those barricades down first, and they came in and got around the flagpole and raised the Palestinian flag.

“Then, eventually, the cops came, and were pretty rough. I witnessed the cops knock over a woman in a wheelchair. We were trying to help her.”

“It was really bad. It was right here.”

He then pointed to a spot just about 20 yards at the most from the flag that was near us.

Once things had died down, I wrapped up one last interview with a pro-Palestine protester named Zan Bringham. He gave a brief description of the protests at its peak:

“I was, like, right in the middle of everything…The police were, like, really trying to push us out, and they got pretty aggressive here.”

 Zan has been very involved.

“I live in Durham, but this is just really important to me, so I have been at all of the Durham and Raleigh protests, teach-ins, everything that I can show up at, and we’re trying to bring it all together because we have more power in numbers, so all of the Raleigh demonstrators are now part of the UNC encampment and mission here.”

After wrapping up this final interview, I looked around my dear UNC. There was trash everywhere, mostly water bottles and such, that different protesters had tossed at each other. Small pockets of people were arguing about the day’s events and the larger topic at hand. It was all peaceful, maybe tense with some raised voices, but no more throwing bottles and chasing each other down.

A fellow senior at UNC was happy earlier to speak to me about the protests. But not happy about the day’s events. He was raised Orthodox Jewish and graduating soon from Kenan-Flagler Business School:

“This is LDOC for everyone, but this is actually my last day of Carolina for good. It puts a sour taste in your mouth, but that’s also so trivial to the point where it’s really hard hearing things chanted at you that they’re just calling for our death and destruction.” 

He said some protesters had yelled violent things at him and other pro-Israel/pro-United States of America counter-protesters on the steps of the South Building.

“I remember hearing “from the river to the sea” and “intifada revolution,” calling for violent acts against Jewish people and those in Israel. Plus, both have been chants heard on dozens of campuses around the country, not just here.”

Pro-Israel and Pro-U.S. Counter-protesters on the steps of the South Building on UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus. Photo Credits to Thomas Hicks.

I took pictures from each end of the quad, trying to show the aftermath. Some students came back to sit on the quad; some were just standing and observing. Most people had left. A few news crews straggled behind. I had never seen a quad in this shape—trashed, desolate, and without a flag.

Post-protest aftermath at UNC-Chapel Hill in front of South Building. Photo Credits to Thomas Hicks.

I had lunch a few days later with a friend. We ate Hibachi, caught up, talked about my graduation and a few more things. We don’t get to hang out one-on-one very often, but it’s great when we do. And when we started talking about the protest a few days before, we were roughly on the same side. The side of seeing the issues at hand as seemingly convoluted, complicated and sad, and that no one seems free of guilt. In regard to this war, death, protest and more surrounding Israel and Palestine, the main side we took was the side of hoping that this conflict would just do one thing.

Stop.


Thomas Hicks is a journalist with video, PR, and writing experience who studied at UNC and the Hussman School of Journalism and Media. Thomas is always looking for work and the next story! He loves working with his camera or with his pen. This reporter can be contacted at thomasjhicks55@gmail.com, LinkedIn: Thomas Hicks and X: ThomasJ_H
 
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1 Comment on "A Campus divided. A flag ripped down. No hope in sight: domestic or abroad."

  1. Thanks, Thomas. Your article shows a maturity beyond your years and both the curiosity and insightful reporting which will, undoubtedly, lead you to a rewarding career in your chosen field. Having lived through similar experiences at UNC in the 60’s, I applaud your efforts to not only become involved but to document that involvement. Keep up the good work. You make all of us proud.

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