by Joe Schwartz
A group angered by Chapel Hill Town Manager Roger Stancil's endorsement of the Nov. 13 police action at the Yates Motor Co. building on Franklin Street will gather at 6 p.m. tonight at Peace and Justice Plaza and march to Town Hall where Stancil's report will be considered by the town council.
On that crisp Sunday afternoon in November, a Special Emergency Response Team charged and arrested eight people who broke into and occupied the Yates building, also known as the Chrysler Building, in attempt to turn the long-vacant property into a community center.
Critics say the police rushed in without warning and that the takeover of the building was peaceful and did not warrant a squad of police bearing assault rifles.
Stancil found in his report that the incident took place without injury and was warranted after two unsuccessful attempts by police to talk to the occupants.
Council will receive Stancil's report, released to the public late Friday, at its 7 p.m. business meeting.
The protest is endorsed by the Chapel Hill Prison Books Collective and Croatan Earth First!. The full press release is below.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Residents To Protest Review Endorsing Violent Police Action
CHAPEL HILL - On January 6, Chapel Hill Town Manager Roger Stancil presented a review of the November 13 police raid on the occupied building formerly housing the Yates Motor Company that praised the conduct of the police. In response, at 6 pm on Monday, January 9, Chapel Hill residents outraged by the report's legitimization of police violence will gather at Peace and Justice Plaza on Franklin Street. The Chapel Hill Prison Books Collective and Croatan Earth First!, two grassroots community organizations, endorse this protest as a necessary response to this reckless sanction of heavy-handed repression.
The report demonstrates that the Town government is dangerously out of touch with the people of Chapel Hill. The report minimizes the widespread outrage and condemnation of the police response, referring to it only as “interest,” and refuses to endorse an independent review of the incident or to apologize to the reporters detained during the raid. Town Manager Stancil alleges that "there were two unsuccessful attempts to communicate with those inside the building," but fails to show that anyone was ever asked to leave the building before the SERT raid, as recommended by policy. He claims that this action was executed with consideration for the surrounding population on Franklin Street, while the police report states “that bystanders immediately adjacent to the building could not be disregarded and would, therefore, be detained until the entire area was declared secure and they could be identified.” This attempt to whitewash an outrageously inappropriate police action, following on the heels of an alleged incident of racial profiling by Chapel Hill police, shows that local residents can expect no accountability from local government.
This review sets a dangerous precedent for Chapel Hill police responding to creative civil disobedience with potentially lethal force. Indeed, as the report indicates, a SERT team was deployed against peaceful occupiers at an anti-war protest at Congressman David Price's office in 2002, revealing a pattern of threatening extreme force against unarmed protestors. Furthermore, the report indicates that Chapel Hill police collaborated with other NC law enforcement in targeting activists for surveillance on the basis of their political beliefs. The Town Manager's statement confirms what the conduct of the police already showed: for the government of Chapel Hill, property rights are more important than human life. Is it better that people risk death from exposure or the bullets of militarized police than that anyone challenge a landlord's right to keep vast buildings empty in the midst of an economic crisis? Unlike the town government, the people of Chapel Hill will unite Monday evening to say no.