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Black student leaders want acting UNC police chief fired for ‘assaulting’ protesters

Black student leaders say acting UNC Police Chief Rahsheem Holland is a threat to the safety of Black students after they say he assaulted multiple students at a trustees meeting last week. They are demanding that he be fired.

The UNC Black Student Movement issued a statement shortly after UNC-Chapel Hill announced on Tuesday that Chief David Perry is resigning and Holland will continue to serve as acting chief.

The BSM said the decision “demonstrates the university’s commitment to the suffering of Black students” and shows that university leaders are comfortable with violence against students.

About 75 students and faculty stood inside a ballroom at The Carolina Inn last Wednesday, protesting the UNC-CH Board of Trustees’ previous failure to grant tenure to distinguished journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones. A few held signs: “Tenure for Nikole Hannah-Jones” and “Abolish BOT.”

Altercation at board meeting

Trustees opened the meeting and quickly voted to go into closed session to discuss Hannah-Jones’ tenure application. But no one told students the closed session was required by personnel rules, and when officers ordered the media and the public to clear the room, some students stayed. One shouted at trustees, “You’re an embarrassment, and you know what you’re doing is wrong.”

Three uniformed campus officers then moved in on the group of students, and at least two began strenuously shoving students toward a set of double doors into a hallway. Students yelled at the officers to take their hands off, but the students eventually were pushed out and the doors were closed.

Holland was one of the officers involved in the altercation.

“You, Mr. Holland, are a threat to our safety,” Julia Clark, vice president of the Black Student Movement, yelled through a megaphone outside the doors of the meeting room.

“Don’t touch me,” she said as an officer pushed the megaphone down.

Clark alleges that Holland punched her in the face during the incident. UNC officials have not acknowledged or denied that Holland struck any students. Officers threatened to arrest students, but none were charged.

On his LinkedIn account, Holland describes himself as “ a highly skilled Police Administrator with nineteen years of service highlighted by increasingly responsible positions requiring exemplary leadership performance. As Assistant Chief at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Police (UNC-CH Police) Department, I have developed exceptional leadership, management and visionary skills, worked to ensure functional goals, guided organizational work efforts and developed policies focused on meeting community needs while encouraging departmental growth. As a senior executive, I have acquired in-depth knowledge of budget management and have mastered the art of technical writing by way of an extensive background developing policies and procedures. I am goal oriented and excel working both independently or collaboratively with senior staff and community partners.”

UNC assigned Holland to serve as acting chief in mid-May, but did not announce the move to students.

‘Despicable’

In its statement shared on Twitter Tuesday, BSM said, “The full Board of Trustees at UNC, as well as Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz, were present on the afternoon of Wednesday, June 30th, when Rahsheem Holland “assaulted multiple Black students who were non-violently exercising their right to protest during a Board of Trustees meeting. Among those assaulted was BSM’s Vice President, Julia Clark, who Rahsheem Holland is on video punching in her face after police violently attacked students protesting non-violently.”

Trustee Gene Davis and Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz were “informed by BSM leadership about the violation by UNCPD of student’s rights and of the evidence we have and of the evidence we have documenting the assault against our Vice President and many other Black students on June 30, and they have allowed Rahsheem Holland to be approved as Interim Chief despite this.”

“The Black Student Movement considers their allowance of Rahsheem Holland’s promotion as leaders of this university to be despicable, and we firmly resist this decision in the face of the trauma Rahsheem Holland and other officers caused so many Black students less than one week ago.”

“We are unyielding in our view that Rahsheem Holland used excessive force when engaging with non-violent, Black student protesters of June 30th. Given the unjust violence that he has perpetrated against our community, we demand that university leadership not appoint Rahsheem Holland as Interim UNC Campus Chief of Police and terminate his employment with the university immediately.”

“There cannot be a racial reckoning or an effort to improve the climate of our campus for Black students if those who blatantly disregard the safety of Black students, like Rahsheem Holland, are rewarded for abusing their power.”

“Black students are in danger of facing more violent and unjust assaults from campus police if this abominable decision is not corrected, and we will continue to fight for Rahsheem Holland’s removal from our campus.“

Black students also have complained that campus police patrol disproportionately in the South Campus area, where the greatest concentration of Black students live, on move-in days and anytime events are planned.

In a list of demands shared with Guskiewicz and Gene Davis, vice chair of the Board of Trustees, students have asked for remedies.

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Kate Murphy covers higher education for The News & Observer. Previously, she covered higher education for the Cincinnati Enquirer on the investigative and enterprise team and USA Today Network. Her work has won state awards in Ohio and Kentucky and she was recently named a 2019 Education Writers Association finalist for digital storytelling.
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