Carrboro Apologizes for Yates Building Police Action

This semester I have served OrangePolitics as a student intern to complete a minimum 30-hour service-learning requirement for a sociology class entitled “Social and Economic Justice.” The course is a capstone requirement for all social and economic justice minors like myself and has allowed my professor the opportunity to chronicle the development of the Occupy movement over the course of the semester. Admittedly, I am privileged. But, having studied the birth and spread of this movement, I was shocked when a local demonstration against corporate hegemony of the wealthiest Americans (unaffiliated directly with the Occupy Chapel Hill demonstrations) took a dramatic turn a little more than a week ago, as a police tactical team of more than 25 officers arrested eight demonstrators in a vacant Franklin Street building.

While I understand that we may never know what police knew when they decided to use assault rifles and riot gear in arresting the eight activists, what we do now know is that no weapons were present at 419 W. Franklin Street at the time of the arrests. Even more, we have learned that many citizens, unaffiliated with any demonstration, were restrained with plastic wrist ties and pushed to the ground during the commotion. With the News & Observer demanding a formal apology from Chapel Hill officials for detaining and questioning an N&O reporter, I was sure my community would respond with alarm and remorse for those caught in the fray. But, I was mistaken.

That is, until Tuesday evening, November 22, when the Carrboro Board of Aldermen unanimously passed a resolution, proposed by Alderman Dan Coleman, which formally apologized for the role the Carrboro Police Department played in the unwarranted restraint of reporters. However, another resolution that more generally apologized, stating that the town “apologizes if unharmed and cooperating citizens were unnecessarily held at gun-point or hand-cuffed,” narrowly passed in a 4-3 split.

Coleman, who proposed both resolutions, said he was motivated by a sense of empathy for those involved. “If I had a semi-automatic rifle pointed at my head for just standing on the street, I know I would feel better if someone apologized,” Coleman said.

Some on the board wanted to wait for a formal review of the police activity that night. They expressed concern that apologizing now and retracting the apology in the days to come (if new evidence comes to the forefront showing the police acted judiciously) would be weak and a failure to our local police forces.

Alderwoman Lydia Lavelle said she feels our police are well trained and acted within the law of the town’s mutual assistance agreement, but she warned that the facts may never be collected in full. “I’m not sure if we will ever know why the police decided to act the way they did,” Lavelle said.

Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton echoed Lavelle’s concerns. “The nature of police work is that information must be more closely guarded,” Chilton said. “Unlike every other arena in which we work, we do not conduct police investigations in the open.”

Ultimately, the Board of Aldermen passed both proposed resolutions, with the second only passing after Chilton proposed an amendment to the text, which acknowledged the board’s lack of access to all the pertinent facts relating to the arrests. While this is encouraging, only the public can decide if they are satisfied with this request for forgiveness. Moreover, Chapel Hill’s leadership, whose police force ultimately made the tactical decision to use riot squads and assault rifles to remove demonstrators from the abandoned building, are defending their decision.

On November 15, 2011, Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue was quoted defending his tactical decision in a News & Observer article entitled “Chapel Hill Officials Defend Arrest Tactics.” Blue said the action was “prudent, reasonable, and appropriate given what we knew.”

Chief Blue went on to explain their understanding of the apparent threat these unarmed demonstrators posed to police. “I do not know the intentions of the group…, but they certainly posed a risk to officers who entered the building,” Blue said, alluding to violent protest literature allegedly being distributed by activists.

But, I want more clarity. Should our police force be required to have more than a hunch of violent mobilization to justify such traumatic tactics? I think so. I also admit that I am not a law enforcement officer, but I know that, as a citizen, I want my police force to ponder if there is another effective and less harmful way of ensuring the peace before resorting to riot squads and guns.

Nevertheless, the Board of Aldermen’s apology is a step in the right direction and should serve as an example to Chapel Hill of accountability and transparency. As a resident of Chapel Hill, I am eager to learn more about what prompted these arrests so close to home and look forward to a thorough review of all police involvement.

 

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Total votes: 174

Comments

This might have something to do with the police response, as this interview shows how local anarchists think about how they intend to use violence in our community:"Anarchists will actually use violence to defend what we have gained. Well, we use violence to get what we want, that's clear," he said. "Revolutions are not like a dinner party." http://www.chapelhillnews.com/2011/11/20/68194/revolutions-not-a-dinner-...I'm not saying that they shouldn't have first amendment rights, only that when you've threatened violence on the community then extra police precaustions are warranted.  

ive read the article you mentioned; it comes off as a philosophical discussion about anarchism, hardly a "threat to the community." NOWHERE in the article does the person youre quoting directly "threaten violence" on carrboro or chapel hill citizens etc - philosophically it affirms popular movements' right to self defense, something ALOT of people agree with....Again, specifically addressing this incident, the protesters were unarmed and followed (albeit angrily) police orders. Saying they "threatened violence on the community" is ridiculous, and you know it. It is true that police in many places fear anarchists more than your average protester, or at least they say they do, or are worked up into a violent frenzy by their chiefs irregardless of the facts. There's probably some rationale to it: anarchists at demonstrations will sometimes stand up for themselves in ways that your average pacifist wont. I could think of a lot of social groups and movements that might fit that description, realy - everyone from angry patriots at a boston tea party to the black panthers to the north carolinian regulator movement from back in the day.None of these movements, btw, could be called a "threat to the community", unless by "community" you mean the matrix of governmental tyrannies and economic investments that felt "threatened" by these movements success.  But i am not such a fool to think that the interests of millionaire landlords or police chiefs and their budgets are somehow my own; we do not form one "community" but a set of clashing interests and desires and needs. Your comment really belies your own interests, if anything, and that of the "community" you claim to be a part of.I see all this as a warning: if cops can simply say they were scared by protesters' radical ideas, and get away with this kind of thing, and the average citizen will LET them get away with this kind of thing, then carrboro and chapel hill can kiss the fuzzy little social democracy people here seem to like so much goodbye. A police state doesnt come on all at once, it comes bit by bit, compromise by compromise.PS this article appeared WELL AFTER the police action. are you arguing the police went forward in time to hear the opinion of one person - thus knowing that anarchists would be perched on the roof with itchy trigger fingers waiting for the next waco? This is all ridiculous....This was a philosophical statement you are taking totally out of context, irrelevant to the situation, made AFTER a peaceful building occupation evicted by guys with semi automatics.  

Yes, the article I mentioned appeared after the arrests.  The point of posting the link was to create a point of reference to understand the belief system espoused by the people who were arrested. Its notable that you did not disagree with the interview’s characterization of the belief system of local anarchists, “we use violence to get what we want, that’s clear”, and we “...seek to overthrow the state”.
The anarchists can’t logically argue that their defining characteristic is the use of violence to overthrow our government and then hide behind the excuse that they didn’t intend to be violent on a particular day while handing out pamphlets with instructions on overturning police cars, breaking windows, and starting fires.  Or were those pamphlets “philosophical”? The lack of a specific written threat does nothing to mitigate their ongoing threat to the community.
The police have to work with the information they have at hand, and they obviously felt there was the potential for violence knowing the political philosophy of the occupiers and after having their initial attempts at communication met with angry obscenities.
  

though obviously we are on very different pages, i think perhaps yours is the only comment that actually explains why the police acted the way they do. They fear anarchists for their ideas, the threat to the status quo they supposedly represent. This seems plausible- its certainly not outside the history of this country's police interactions with radicals, from the 8 hour workday struggle in Chicago on up til now, it fits the pattern. That you would seem to side with the police is disturbing of course - given the choice between the paramilitarized historical inheritors of slave catchers and the KKK and anti immigrant vigilantes (the source of the first police in the US), on the one hand, and the folks who gave us the 8 hour work day, much of the free speech ordinances we take for granted, not to mention a thousand other things, ill side with the latter thank you very much. I may not agree with them on everything, but at least their heart is in the right place, and they re willing to put their bodies on the line for something bigger than a stock dividend or a government pension. 

The person interviewed in this article justified violence in a lot more cases than what is typically understood as self-defense and you know it. For instance, Pollan said "It's OK for us to force (expropriation) if you are exploiting other people." Seeing as their definition of exploitation seems rather expansive, I do consider this a threat to the community.According to several news reports, flammable materials and a bag of rocks were found in the building (in addition to the pamphlets on starting fires and breaking windows).They advocate violence, they provide instructions on violent methods and they have materials to implement such methods. I feel less threatened by  the CH police with their guns drawn then by these folks with their rocks, etc.

the key problem here is that you re defining "community" in such a way so that the set of interests of a propertied class are universalized; anarchists clearly define it very differently. if what you mean is that anarchists' position on capitalism (that expropriation of means of production by poor people is justified, necessary, etc.) is a threat to capitalists, then obviously you are correct.  but a lot of us folks living in chapel hill dont identify as being part of the same "community" as Joseph Riddle, the owner of the Chrysler Building and numerous other properties, or any number of more obvious examples of the "%1" (as contemporary rhetoric frames them.) You presuppose one big unified community - but at the heart of it youre talking about the interests of business owners and landlords, not everyone. To reemphasize, as a service worker in this town I am not a part of the same "community" as Riddle - and i hardly felt "threatened" when his building was peacefully taken over, at least not until gunwielding strangers rushed in to serve and protect. You can certainly feel differently, and that says a lot about who we are and who we identify with. But dont presume your definition of community is the same as the rest of ours.on a sidenote, there has been no evidence whatsoever of any bags of rocks or flammable materials etc. (though one report by anarchists mentioned setting up a propane stove - theres your flammable material...) other than what the police themselves claim, which is pretty suspect considering they re under fire from all sides in the media to justify their action. the news reports youre mentioning are simply regurgitating what the police statement says - police detained reporters at gunpoint during the raid, so they could hardly have verified it, though a news and observer reporter who was in earlier in the day to take pictures apparently found no "bags of rocks" or what have you...   

I return to the quote, ""It's OK for us to force (expropriation) if you are exploiting other people." Given that we are all living in structures on land that was once forcefully taken from someone else, I consider us all to be benefitting from exploitation. So, while I don't consider myself to be a member of the 1%, I do feel threatened by that statement.

What a great, informative post!

"if what you mean is that anarchists' position on capitalism (that expropriation of means of production by poor people is justified, necessary, etc.) is a threat to capitalists, then obviously you are correct. "If you're defining "community" as excluding capitalists, then I'm afraid that the anarchist's concept of community is a tiny part of the Chapel Hill/Carrboro population.  This is not to imply that the local government and community doesn't reflect and include non-capitalists, only that the vast, vast, majority of citizens believe in private property and paying for things rather than seizing them. And perhaps threatening to "off the pigs" is not a believable way to show how  the Yate's building anarchists didn't mean to harm the police.  

I'm posing this question in the open to anyone who wishes to answer.  Everyone is making a big deal about the protesters being unarmed.  How was anyone other than the protesters themselves supposed to know they were unarmed?

The police knew very well the protesters were unarmed, as they explicitly admit they knew who and how many were in the building, and had themselves been in the building the night before. All this is mentioned in Chief Blue's statement to the press; Blue actually explains that it was their knowledge of who was in the building that allowed him to choose what time was the best to conduct the raid. Blue actually trips up here: he at once explains that he had knowledge of the building and its inhabitants, thus allowing for the precision of his action etc., and simultaneously pretends that a horde of unknowably vicious armed lunatics were waiting to pounce and therefore going in with assault rifles drawn was the best course of action. 

Hindsight is always 20/20.It is easy now to say these protesters were unarmed. Had just one protester had a knife under his jacket, the outcome could have been different.  At the end of the day, police are also people, and they deserve the right to go home to their families.Yes, I do see signs of the US developing a more sinister use of local police. You have only to look into the bill passed by the House and Senate and sent to the President this past week for verification of that; may I presume that all of you sent your objections to your elected officials along with a request not to vote to allow our armed forces to detain, arrest and hold civilians without charge for as long as they desired?? (National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Even Kay Hagan voted in favor of this. (The claim is that America has become the battlefield....) (that's another post)However, even though I occasionally participate in our local Occupy movement, I find it disturbing that a small group of people think they can just walk in to a place/building and take over.  I asked some of them (through a list serv I share with them) who are they to decide the needs of our community? Did they consult with other groups? Take a survey?  I asked if they had ever attended any town council meetings or community planning sessions.  No. What gives them the right to decide community needs? Do they vote? Why would anyone even put up a building if someone else could come along and take it for their own use??Yes, there are problems with capatilism. I know that. Yes, the building is an eyesore and has been long neglected by an absentee landlord. Instead of breaking into it, I chose another course of action.  I wrote a letter to the editor of the Fayetteville Observer, scolding Mr. Riddle for his neglect and requesting he sell or rent out this building.  I have heard rumors that he has a personal dislike of Chapel Hill ...  I don't really know.  But perhaps a little shame in his home community will help persuade him to do something.  At the very least, his country club friends will have something to talk about. I wrote, and some how lost, a post to OP about my letter, encouraging all of you who care about the downtown to also write the Fayetteville Observer.  When some of the consequences of his lack of action become the gossip amongst his local friends, perhaps some positive actions will be taken here in our town.At any rate, America's whole military philosophy is to initially overwhelm our adversaries with a much superior force.  This has trickled down to our police.  They want to finish their shift and go home like the rest of us.  If they can go in over-prepared they have a greater assurance of personal survival.  The tactics considered appropriate in policing are not generally well known amongst the general population.  What they see as standard procedure under various circumstances is unknown to the public at large.  When the Columbine incident happened in Colorado, I was taken aback by the fact that kids leaving the building were required to do so with their hands over their heads; to me, these were just traumatized kids, but to the police any one of them could have been an accomplice. They had to sort out the facts AFTER assuring everyone's safety.  I did not like it but could see the practicality.   I don't like the idea of assault weapons on Franklin St.  And I don't like the thought that someone I don't know can decide that there is a better use for my own property. But is is easy to be a Monday morning quarterback.

 

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