Why Are Police Stifling First Amendment Rights in Carrboro?

On November 15th, around four p.m., local Earth First! activists gathered outside of the Royal Bank of Canada in Carrboro to protest the bank's investment in the world's most destructive project, the Canadian Tar Sands.  We were holding signs, banners, and doing some chanting.  The police arrived and told us that we could not stand anywhere on the sidewalk at all. Present were officers Speight, Stewart and Walker.  Officer Stewart told us, very directly, and repeatedly, to leave.  After asking him about four times to clarify if we would be arrested if we didn't leave, he admitted that he just thought we should leave, "for your own safety."  We decided to stay.  Then officers Speight and Stewart said we had to stop chanting, and that it was breaking the noise ordinance.  We told them it was our first amendment right to protest and that noise ordinances usually apply in the evening after a certain time, not outside businesses in the middle of the day; but they insisted that if we continued to chant we would go to jail (I have sinced looked up the ordinance and it specifies noise after 11 p.m.).  Since we cold no longer make any noise, it seemed almost pointless to be there, and we ended our protest early.  

I have been to a lot of demonstrations around the country, and it seems like it's usually small towns where the police do not understand the right to peaceably assemble and believe their town is, somehow, the exception to the constitution.  We are planning more demonstrations, but we are afraid we could be arrested for merely making noises and chanting.  We held this same protest in Chapel Hill earlier that day, and the police did not force us to be quiet under threat of arrest.  This whole situation is frustratingly ironic since Carrboro considers itself a progressive town; but I've been harassed less in conservative cities like Charlotte.  If this is what people consider a free and democratic society, then this is very sad.  We expected more from Carrboro. 

The noise ordinances for Carrboro:





Thanks for posting about this, Michelle. If true, it's certainly disappointing. Now that you've looked up the laws, are you planning to re-stage the protest? Perhaps the police will realize that orderly free speech is not a threat to public safety. But if they don't, you'll be able to challenge their threats with the facts.

Have you contacted the police department to let them know you will be protesting? It's entirely possible this was a misunderstanding by a few officers and not departmental policy. In that case they made a mistake and if you reach out, you can avoid any further problems. I've always found the Carrboro police to be very easy to work with.

Another approach is to make appointments and meet with the mayor, the Chief of Police, and the Town Attorney. Maybe meet with them separately, at separate appointments. Wear nice clothes, even a coat and tie or equivalent. Look like a person who's comfortable with meeting with attorneys and such on their own turf. Look like a walking lawsuit. Respectfully recount what occured. Then listen. Then act (or not) accordingly.


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