Speaking Out About UNC’s Silent Sam

In my short lifespan as a documentary film maker I have already learned how hard it is to tell a positive story.  Quite often if you are literally going to document what actually happened…people invariably incriminate themselves with their behavior.  The challenge for me in crafting a narrative is if I should just leave it all in and let the public judgmentally hang the person or should I steer it a bit in a different direction?  I am sure many would say to maintain the pure truth.  In the world today as it is, I feel differently.

You can’t show the truth because what you are filming isn’t the truth.  It’s a singular moment.  Humanity has a nasty habit of judging a person rather quickly and usually based upon mere seconds of interaction or observation.  Whatever happened to the “they were having a bad day”?  Now all it takes is 5 seconds of video and one thinks that they know a person, can accurately condemn a person.  You, as a documentarian, I feel, must take this “truth” into consideration.  Do you want to show something that will only inflame others to hatred?  No.  Not me.

Be assured. You are never seeing the whole story.  You are often only seeing a very very bad day in someone’s life.  Reverse that for the other truth.  Don’t think someone is kind as kittens just because you saw them behave kindly.  To really know the truth, you have to spend time with someone.  You have to get to know someone.  When you see someone from a distance, that is when judgment is deployed, for good or ill.  When you know someone up close, no matter what your judgments are, it becomes impossible to not see the humanity, the innocence.  Proximity multiplied by time equals understanding.  Understanding leads to dialogue.  Dialogue is what we need.

It’s a damn frustrating time to be alive…no one seems to want to dialogue.  Everyone seems to want to judge based on the sparest evidence.

This all brings  me to tonight’s protest gathering at Silent Sam on UNC Campus in Chapel Hill.  This venerable institution has a statue named Silent Sam.  Students and others are doing a sit in to have it removed.  The latest news is that the administration of UNC has been granted permission from the Governor to remove it.  Yet, the administration then declined to do so at last check on 8/24/17.  I dropped by tonight to see what might be unfolding.  My very unedited and straight shot of 3 clips in lousy lighting are below:

Silent Sam Protest: 8:30 PM 8/24/17 from TheVideoSlab on Vimeo.

Honestly the hardest parts to watch…I didn’t have my camera rolling.  I was too taken aback to remember to film.  When I walked up there was a lone female UNC Police Officer.  She stood stoically in a circle of light, her face bright with the cell phone flashlights of a crowd of a- how can I put this kindly?…a jeering rabble.  As I approached I noticed she didn’t speak.  Then I could hear the small crowd, half circling her, saying rude things, taunting her, laughing at her.  There was a man with a bright light and a small camera..he would get really close and robotically repeat things about how she was a white supremacist there to protect hatred and other such things.  I could judge these people but all I’ll be able to say accurately is that what they were doing, will never lead to dialogue.  I don’t know them but what they did was hateful, disrespectful, and representative of a society that feels dangerously close to losing it’s ability to maintain decency.  We’ve forgotten civility and we take for granted that we have the right to be uncivil.  But we are also like children in this regard.  Most of us, and I’d guess most at that gathering haven’t lived long enough or hard enough to know what it’s like to live in a place where simple things like freedom of speech may not be knocked around so loosely.  We have a lot of work to do for equal rights, but how is that now, we are sliding back into hate as a way to demand freedoms?

My footage doesn’t show this.  But I spoke with some of the officers.  The woman was a graduate of UNC.  She said “I came back as an officer to give back.”  She was proud of her role…you could feel it.  But no one there knew that but me.  No one ever stopped to talk to any of these officers as human beings.  To the crowd she was a racist pig.  I was glad my young daughter wasn’t there to see this version of “democracy” in action.

We all keep seeing this intense focus on how police are tools of the oppressor.  We keep hearing how cops are loose cannons, eager to strike, hoping to knock you down for using your voice.  Some of them are that way I am sure.  Very few.  But cops aren’t just cops…they are people.  The childishly behaving rabble yelling jeers at the cops tonight…I am sure they have had better days.  They are people too…and still…they just felt like they were yelling at their parents….and I felt ashamed to be there to see democracy reduced to this level.  The point is that we are all living in this country.  There are few of us who want to see it get worse.  What I saw tonight is exactly how to make it worse…the protestors showed me.  I hope they do better next time.

The police of UNC Campus showed me how we all wish police would react.  Calm.  Patient.  Dutiful.  Under pressure but not shaken.  They behaved the way that one wished the protestors had behaved.  The officers had people in their faces saying  “suck a dick”.  They were called “motherfuckers”…yet, they just stood there and took deep breaths and let the people get it out of their systems.  When I asked the officers how it was that they could remain calm, one of them said, “they (the protestors) are using their first amendment rights, we are here to protect that too.”  My hat is off to the UNC Police.

If protestors who are fighting to halt racism are using hateful epithets to accomplish their goals…hate still has a home and has gone nowhere.  It’s just changed identity.  It’s the same amount of hate let loose in this tired world that needs more love.

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