Published: Nov 27, 2011 02:00 AM
Modified: Nov 25, 2011 03:54 PM
Among the views we've heard regarding the Nov. 13 police raid to remove protesters who had occupied the former Yates Motor Company Building is that the whole thing has been blown out of proportion.
After all, no shots were fired. No pepper spray was used. Nobody got hurt or even hauled off to jail; those arrested were charged with misdemeanors and released.
So, some say, why all the fuss? Why so much criticism? The police acted on their best information and responded accordingly. Let's move on.
What's wrong with that argument?
From our perspective, the main reason to insist upon a thorough investigation into the raid is not to point fingers, but to understand what happened and why, and thereby to learn some valuable lessons.
Those lessons can improve the town's response to future situations, improve public safety and pave the way for a stronger relationship between the police and the community -- but only if what happened at Yates is thoroughly examined.
Absent that investigation, you could reasonably conclude that the main lesson to draw is that best way for police to respond to any unusual situation is with an overwhelming display of armed force. We doubt anyone, including the police department, wants that to become the standard operating procedure in Chapel Hill.
Among the points that prompt the most serious questions are these:
The police, by all appearances, believed the people who had occupied the building might be armed and prepared to resist violently. Yet officers didn't move the dozens of bystanders to a safe distance before launching the raid. If, as police apparently believed was possible, the incident had turned violent, many innocent bystanders could have been hurt or worse.
At the very least, this should prompt a review of how future operations should be conducted.
The police were operating, it seems, on the basis of flawed intelligence. As it happened, the occupiers were not armed, offered no resistance, and -- other than making a vague "threatening" gesture toward an officer the night before -- hadn't issued any demands or threats. They hadn't taken hostages, intimidated passersby, barricaded the building or even closed its doors.
The decision to go in strong, according to police, was mainly based on the brief experience of the officer the night before, the presence of "riot literature" and the involvement of "known anarchists."
Opportunities for better intelligence seem to have been available. People walked freely in and out of the building. Banners in the windows didn't completely hide the interior. Is "riot literature" a reliable indication of violent intent? What efforts were made to better learn what police were dealing with?
An investigation should lead to better intelligence-gathering.
Finally, as some members of the Town Council have said, the incident has damaged the trust the community holds for its police department. That trust is irreplaceable. It's among the most valuable tools we have in maintaining a friendly and safe community.
If nothing else, the Yates raid requires a serious investigation as the first step in repairing the damage.
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