CARRBORO - The reaction to last weekend’s anti-CVS demonstration in Carrboro is the second in four months to raise questions about the appropriate response to public protest.
The Chapel Hill Police Department’s handling of the Yates Motor building occupation last fall led to marches, discussion by the town’s new police advisory panel and a policy review, after town leaders conceded police may have used more force than was necessary.
Now, some members of the Carrboro Board of Aldermen want to talk with Carrboro Police Chief Carolyn Hutchison about last weekend’s response to the Carrboro Commune’s “Guerilla Gardening” demonstration.
In interviews last week, Hutchison and Lt. A.L. Westbrook, a criminal investigator, defended deploying 22 officers in light of commune members’ illegal February occupation of the former WCOM radio station building on the CVS property and because of a growing concern about anarchists locally and elsewhere.
“A lot of folks see this as ‘Occupy,’” Westbrook said, referring to the local and national Occupy Wall Street movements that have peacefully demonstrated against corporations. “This is a completely different group. These people are anarchists.”
Locally, the division is unclear. Some participants in the occupations of the Yates and CVS properties also participated in the Occupy Chapel Hill-Carrboro encampment outside the Franklin Street post office. Officially, Occupy distanced itself from the building takeovers, saying it makes decisions by consensus and that the group had never endorsed the takeovers.
But that’s how anarchists work, Westbrook said.
“One of the techniques the anarchists use is they find other groups with a similar agenda and they partner with them to promote their own agenda,” he said. “The tactics and techniques they use take it beyond protests when they break the law. They take it to a whole different level.”Anarchist activity
Hutchison and Westbrook said police must take anarchist activity seriously.
In May 2010, Asheville police arrested 11 people, two with connections to anarchist groups, the Mountain Xpress reported. “The subjects were wearing masks and face coverings and are estimated to have damaged at least eight vehicles and five businesses,” according to an Asheville Police Department release.
Further, Carrboro police said some CVS protesters have criminal records – one has been arrested on felony drug, armed robbery and probation violation charges and misdemeanor drug charges – and at least two gave the media false names.
A man who gave his name as Michael Connor and who has spoken before the Town Council using that name is Michael Levey Bandes, police said.
Another man who gave his name as Eric Marrow is Evan James Munn, police said.
It is the newspaper’s policy to quote individuals who provide their first and last names.
Local anarchists routinely give reporters false names, though it’s usually obvious. A woman painting faces at the March 17 “Guerilla Gardening” demonstration said her name was Emma Goldman, the 20th century anarchist.
Bandes, who acknowledged using a false name, said it’s the only way some activists feel they can safely get their message out.
“In the age of Google and that level of access to information by random people, there is a safety issue,” he said last week. “I think particularly because a lot of activists hold menial jobs, for us to have access to the same avenues of free speech as those in power who do not risk the repercussions of losing their jobs – because they’re enforcing the status quo – sometimes we’re backed into the corner of using a false name.”
Efforts to reach Munn last week were unsuccessful.
Hutchison said she contacted the newspaper to report the false names as she would with any incorrect information reported in the paper.
She said she has not yet had a chance to share information about the anarchists with the aldermen and has “absolutely no idea” if it would change the opinion of those who think the department has overreacted.Civil disobedience
Alderman Sammy Slade said the nature of civil disobedience is to knowingly violate the laws while accepting the consequences, but the consequences also should be applied in relation to the level of the protesters’ actions. Carrboro Commune has not committed the kind of violence that would warrant excessive police presence or surveillance, he said.
Mayor Mark Chilton challenged the assumption that all of the protesters were law-abiding citizens. The Chapel Hill and Carrboro occupations were illegal, while the “Guerrilla Gardening” event was questionable based on the information the town had before the event, he said.
“We don’t spend any time investigating people involved in organizations that are doing things that are legal,” Chilton said. “To sit back and say, ‘I’m part of these various things that are against the law and I feel that it’s not fair that I’m being investigated for that’ is sort of an unrealistic expectation.”
Police say they videotaped last weekend’s protest both to document it and also to show how police acted during it.
Alderwoman Randee Haven-O’Donnell said the key to effective civil disobedience is getting from the action to having a conversation about the reasons for it.
“Civil disobedience is about pushing that boundary, and at some point, when you are disobedient and you know you are being disobedient and you intend to be disobedient, you also need to be willing to have the conversation afterward, because that’s what you want,” she said. “You want to engage, but you want to be able to engage around the fact that you’ve made a stand for a reason, and that’s when you get to explain what your reason is.” News researchers Peggy Neal and David Raynor contributed to this report.