Monday, 14 November 2011

Police arrest Chapel Hill protesters who occupied vacant business - Orange County -

Police brandishing guns and assault rifles entered a vacant Franklin Street car dealership and arrested a group of demonstrators who had taken over the building Saturday night.

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The News and Observer

CHAPEL HILL -- A police tactical team of more than 25 police officers arrested eight demonstrators Sunday afternoon and charged them with breaking and entering for occupying a vacant car dealership on Franklin Street.

Officers brandishing guns and semi-automatic rifles rushed the building at about 4:30 p.m. They pointed weapons at those standing outside, and ordered them to put their faces on the ground. They surrounded the building and cleared out those who were inside.

About 13 people, including a New & Observer staff writer covering the demonstration, were forced to the ground and hand-cuffed.

Those who had been outside of the building at the time of the arrests - including N&O staffer Katelyn Ferral - were detained and then let go after their pictures were taken. Eight people inside the building were cuffed and put on a Chapel Hill Transit bus to be taken to the police station to be charged with misdemeanor breaking and entering.

"Along with facilitating citizens' ability to exercise their constitutional rights, it is also a critical responsibility of all levels of government in a free society to respond when rights of others are being impinged upon," Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said in a statement issued Sunday night.

"This weekend a group of protesters broke into and entered a privately owned building in downtown Chapel Hill. ... The Town has an obligation to the property owners, and the Town will enforce those rights ..."

Police closed off four blocks of West Franklin Street with six squad cars and a fire truck while officers removed signs the demonstrators had hung in the former dealership's show room windows.

In a statement Sunday night, police said they had been monitoring the building since Saturday night when they learned attendees of an anarchist book fair held this weekend were aligning themselves with Occupy Chapel Hill and that about 70 people had entered the former car dealership.

"Officers also learned that strategies used by anarchists in other communities included barricading themselves in buildings, placing traps in buildings, and otherwise destroying property," said the statement released by Sgt. Josh Mecimore. "The group in the ... building used large banners to obscure the windows to the business and strategically placed members on the roof as look-outs."

Police waited until the crowd had reached "a manageable size" before moving in Sunday, the statement said.

A crowd of between 50 and 75 people gathered across the street, watching and taking pictures as the bus carrying the protesters pulled away. They jeered police officers, chanting, "Shame! Shame! Shame!" When someone noticed the Wells Fargo advertisement on the side of the bus, they began chanting "Who do they serve? Wells

The group, who identified themselves as "anti-capitalist occupiers" moved into the former University Chrysler and Yates Motor Co. building at 419 W. Franklin St. on Saturday night, the police statement said.

The brick and cinderblock building with large windows fronting the sidewalk is owned by out-of-town businessman Joe Riddle and has stood empty for many years. One demonstrator said they were acting in the tradition of working-class squatters' movements around the world that some say inspired the Occupy Wall Street movement and its offshoots across the United States.

The group printed a flier that proposed a possible new use for the space that would include a free clinic, kitchen, child care, library and dormitories, among other uses. The flier acknowledged they were breaking the law by entering the building.

"Make no mistake: this occupation is illegal," it said, "as are most of the other occupations taking place around the U.S., as were many of the other acts of defiance that won the little freedom and equality we appreciate today."

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