A group of 20 anti-capitalist protesters occupied CVS-owned in property in downtown Carrboro for three hours Saturday night before walking out at the strong encouragement of town police and Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton, who each told them they would be charged with breaking and entering if they did not leave.
The demonstration concerned a forthcoming rezoning application from CVS to build a two-story, 24,000 square foot building at 201 N. Greensboro St., to house a 24-hour drug store and office space.
The anarchist demonstrators, who call themselves "Carrboro Commune" and align with "Occupy Everything," would rather the site be used for a community center, free school, health clinic or performance space.
Maria Rowan stood outside the building handing out fliers inviting passersby to an open assembly at 4 p.m. Sunday to discuss what to do with the building.
"It's my personal hope that the community reclaims our vision for this land and make it clear that multinational corporations and their money are not more important than people," she said
Upon exiting at 7:10 p.m. wearing black bandanas for masks and carrying black flags, Carrboro Commune members promised more occupations and engaged in a heated discussion with Chilton.
They derided the mayor for enforcing property law. Some hurled expletives at him. They said police are one command away from being Nazis.
"I don't think treating your fellow human beings that way is going to get us anywhere," Chilton fired back.
"Look under here, it's skin" he said, pointing to his shirt.
THE VIEW FROM OUTSIDE
(For Carrboro Commune's perspective from the inside, check tweets from @carrborocommune or visit www.trianarchy.wordpress.com. I was told by Carrboro Police Chief Carolyn Hutchinson that reporting from inside would be a crime in her eyes. Other media outlets did enter.)
News that the building was occupied reached me at 5 p.m. via a press release. The occupation had been going on for an hour by that point.
When I arrived Chilton was already inside asking the group to exit. Aldermen Dan Coleman, Jacquelyn Gist, Sammy Slade were across the street as were Chief Hutchinson and Interim Town Manager Matt Efird. Hutchinson and Efird weren't commenting at that point.
Gist said that the demonstrators were asked what it would take for them to leave and said vegan ice cream.
"Our first tactic is ice cream," she said.
But the ice cream sandwiches she purchased failed to win the day.
Coleman had been inside with Chilton and said he expected a peaceful outcome.
At 6:05 p.m. a generator, later wheeled away by police, was set up and the lights turned on briefly.
Slade said the incident should open up a discussion on town policies for political protests to "make sure it would be appropriate for a town like Carrboro to do."
"It's a challenging situation in that there's a state law that protects private property," he said. "The best we can do as town government is making sure the type of force that is used is appropriate to the situation."
At 7:03 p.m. officers walked quietly inside and gave the protestors a chance to leave without incident. Minutes later demonstrators walked out carrying tables, food and other supplies. Chilton was the last to exit.
After 10 minutes of Carrboro Commune and Chilton debating outside, there was an attempt to hold a general assembly on what to do with the building. Some people agreed, but only if the elected officials would leave. Chilton walked away. The group agreed to have the advertised community conversation on 201 N. Greensboro on Sunday at 4 p.m.
On Friday, Nomadic Occupy, a group formed once Occupy Chapel Hill/Carrboro removed tents from the Peace and Justice Plaza on Franklin Street, set up camp on strip of public land across the street from the Carrboro Century Center and the CVS site.
Chilton and Efird said campers were welcome to stay there, and the demonstrators and their supporters returned to that space.
DIFFERENT THAN YATES
Unlike the Nov. 13 police raid in Chapel Hill when the same anti-capitalist occupiers broke into and stayed overnight at a former auto dealership that's laid dormant for decade, elected officials were on site and a Special Emergency Response Team was not deployed. No arrests were made.
Carrboro had the benefit of witnessing Chapel Hill's response that day and hearing the community reaction that followed.
Efird said after Saturday's incident that the town had been vigilant in the wake of the Yates controversy in anticipation of another takeover of private property.
He said he wanted to ensure that officers stuck to policy and gave proper warning before acting.
"We stuck to the core values of this community, which is what our officers do," he said.
Asked what police would have done if the protesters did not leave, Efird said, "We didn't plan that far ahead, this was a spontaneous event from that standpoint. We wanted it to be peaceful."
Chilton went inside because those who were at Yates said that if anyone had asked them to leave, they would have.
Afterward though, when he asked the group if Carrboro handled the CVS situation better than the Yates ordeal, Carrboro Commune members said no, that in both a potential community center was quashed.
THE CVS IN QUESTION
CVS, based in Rhode Island, purchased the property in 2010. A permit for rezoning was sent forward in April.
Damon Seils, a member of the Carrboro Planning Board, says he expects the board will review the CVS application next month.
Anti-CVS signs have sprouted in nearby yards ever since the company announced its plans.
Much of the neighborhood opposition to the CVS site can be found at centerofcarrboro.blogspot.com.
Depending on the final plan, two houses would be torn down to make way for a parking lot, and a dentist's office also could be affected. Mature trees are at risk. Neighbors also don't want to contend with additional traffic or round-the-clock lighting.
Some neighbors who witnessed the takeover Saturday, though, said the town process should be trusted.
Jeff Herrick, a neighbor to the CVS site who opposes the redevelopment, says efforts should be focused on making a case at public hearings.
He says this is the first interest on CVS he has heard from the protestors and he questioned how informed they are on the issue
"They didn't come and talk to us," he said.
Alderman Coleman said the group had planned to march on the CVS issue in prior months.
Rowan said that the permit process is flawed and only allows the Board of Aldermen to analyze and vote on a proposal from CVS executives rather than creating a community vision for the space.
It's early yet, but critics of the CVS occupation were easy to find Saturday.
Gist said that she supports the Occupy movement and that she was discouraged that events such as the CVS takeover distract from the message.
"Karl Rove couldn't have designed a better tactic to discredit Occupy than the anarchists have," Gist said.
"These people aren't any different than the Tea Party," she said of the tactics, adding that, "The end result is next week CVS is going to come up and put an ugly fence in front of the property."
People of Faith Against the Death Penalty Executive Director Stephen Dear, a Carrboro resident, also questioned the strategy.
"It's very disturbing to hear you dehumanize the police, and I say that as someone who has done civil disobedience dozens of times," he said, breaking into the back and forth between Carrboro Commune and Chilton. "The more we dehumanize each other, the worse it is."
Last year, Dear violated Carrboro's anti-loitering ordinance at the corner of Jones Ferry and Davie roads that restricted people from standing, sitting or remaining there from 11 a.m. to 5 a.m. by eating his lunch there each day. The ordinance was rescinded in November. Dear also was arrested in September while protesting the execution of Troy Davis.
Those involved are undeterred. They celebrated their statement, and they sure called more attention and TV cameras to the CVS site than the neighbors have managed thus far.
More to come, no doubt.