Arielle Hudson knew Zach Borenstein was in trouble when she saw the news late Saturday evening. Borenstein, who got his master’s degree at the University of Mississippi in 2020, was arrested around 5 p.m. Saturday following protests of police violence on the Oxford square.
Using spray paint, Borenstein had scrawled “Spiritual Genocide” over the carved inscription and on the base of the Confederate soldier statue on the Lyceum circle at the entry to the University of Mississippi campus. He then pressed a bloody palm onto the monument after cutting his own hand. The UM Police Department charged him with a felony for destroying public property.
UM student journalist Skye Spiehler captured footage showing Borenstein explaining himself after police apprehended him.
— Skye Spiehler (@SkyeSpiehler) May 31, 2020
“I don’t think we’ve taken responsibility for our past, and it’s things like that that lead to black people being afraid and, actually, legitimately being unsafe in this country,” the Scarsdale, N.Y., native said as he sat on the sidewalk with police officers looking on.
Borenstein compared the Confederacy to Nazi Germany.
“As a Jewish person, what the Germans did to the Jews was horrible, but Germany was forced to take accountability for what happened,” he said in the video. “As a result, I can go to Germany and be totally safe as a Jewish person. I think the Confederacy is very similar to Nazi Germany. Germany remembers World War II and remembers the Holocaust without making monuments to Nazi soldiers. The United States doesn’t need to make monuments to the Confederacy. It’s a monument that’s an emblem of something that makes people unsafe. That breeds violence. ”
‘It Takes All of Us to See It Through’
Upon hearing about the incident, Hudson acted immediately on Borenstein’s behalf.
“As soon as I saw it, I knew I wanted to do something about it,” the Tunica native told the Mississippi Free Press today. “The first thought that came to my mind was setting up a bail fund because I know that the statue on UM’s campus is a registered national landmark, so I knew that it could be felony charges.”
Hudson helped lead stalled student efforts to move the statue to a less prominent spot in the university’s Confederate cemetery.
“[I]f we begin the work toward true racial reconciliation, (UM) has the potential to live up to the namesake that it carries as Mississippi’s flagship institution and to set an example for the rest of the world,” she wrote in a column in The Daily Mississippian, the campus newspaper. “This work begins with the relocation of the Confederate statue, and it takes all of us to see it through.”
Following advice from her mentors, the 2020 UM graduate and the college’s first black woman Rhodes Scholar, set up a GoFundMe page today to raise money for Borenstein’s bail costs. Donations had amassed $13,062 by press time. She pledged to donate any remaining funds to the Mississippi Bail Fund.
“It immediately got a lot of support,” said Hudson, who is on the advisory board of the Mississippi Free Press. “Over 180 donations in the first two hours.”
While Hudson does not condone vandalism, she and her colleagues do recognize the symbolism of Borenstein’s actions, as well as the symbolism inherent to the statue of the confederate soldier. “He made a strong stand against oppression and racism, and that’s what’s needed in this country,” Hudson said.
‘The Statue Is Reprehensible’
Jarvis Benson, a colleague of Hudson’s and fellow UM graduate from Grenada, Miss., shared a similar view.
“The statue is reprehensible. An awful symbol of white supremacy and oppression on campus,” he said today. Benson, along with Hudson and Leah Davis of Tupelo, co-authored a resolution to have the Confederate statue relocated.
Jailien Grant of Jackson, the current president of UM’s chapter of the NAACP, said that despite years of effort, though, “we’ve gotten nowhere.”
Some members of the community did not agree with Borenstein’s actions. “I think the whole country is in terrible shape right now,” Oxford resident Martha Kelley said today. “I think (Borenstein’s actions) is an offshoot of that, and I think it’s awful when we destroy property. No matter the reason.”In February, Borenstein penned an article advocating for the abandonment of the use of the moniker, “Ole Miss,” which many believe to be derived from ‘Ol’ Missus,” which enslaved people called the white mistress of plantations.
“Language matters, but we often get used to saying things that normalize harm,” Borenstein wrote in the column. “Certain phrases diminish or denigrate groups of people, and if not addressed, these phrases become so commonplace that those using them do not even consider their origins and effects.”
For the past few years, the looming presence of Confederate monuments in the American South has faced increased scrutiny. Jailien Grant had a message for those who do not want the symbols removed.
“Put yourselves in our shoes,” she said today. “People sometimes don’t recognize their privilege unless it’s something immediately affecting them, I would just ask them to open their hearts and minds to the struggles of other people.”
Zach Borenstein is currently awaiting his bond hearing and is being held at the Lafayette County Detention Center.