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Student faces charges after campus protest over Civil War statue

The debate around whether Confederate statues belong in public spaces in the 21st century is an emotionally charged one here in North Carolina and other southern states — with strong feelings on both sides.

One graduate student led a rally at the University of North Carolina (UNC) in Chapel Hill early this month to protest the planned relocation of a dismantled statue to another location on campus. She was arrested and faces charges of assaulting a law enforcement officer and inciting a riot. Another graduate student was also charged with assaulting an officer and resisting arrest.

The statue at the center or the controversy is of a Confederate soldier known as "Silent Sam." It was given to the university back in 1913 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The university's chancellor recently announced a plan to place the statue, which had been knocked down by protestors this summer, in a new history and education center just a mile away from where it stood previously. The chancellor acknowledged that she would have preferred that the statue be given a home off-campus, but state law stands in the way.

The protest on Dec. 3 against the plan to bring back Silent Sam included scuffles between university police and students. The 26-year-old student who led the protest turned herself in to authorities at the courthouse the following day. The young woman, who's pursuing a doctorate in history, told a local newspaper, "The only danger and violence present last night was once again caused by university police who came equipped to a student protest with riot gear and tear gas canisters."

The young woman was arrested by university police in the spring when she covered the same statue in red ink as well as her blood. She was charged with a misdemeanor for vandalism, was sanctioned by UNC's honor court and had to perform community service. She says she's received death threats (specifically threats of lynching) because of her activism.

We often see celebrities offering themselves up for arrest at political protests, and those arrests appear to have no impact on their lives or careers. However, that's not the case for most people. Arrests for illegal behavior during a protest — particularly if it involves an alleged assault or other violent act — can have serious consequences. If you're facing such charges, it's wise to seek legal guidance.

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