Late night with Town Council

Town Council and town staff worked a double shift yesterday, given that all have full-time jobs and council convened at 5 p.m. to begin hashing out what to do about community response to the Yates Building incident. The Community Policing Advisory Board had requested approval to hire an independent investigator along the lines of CIA, which investigated the firing of the Sanitation Two. Cost estimates for the move ranged from $15,000 to upwards of $30,000.

From 5 until shortly after 7 p.m., council met in closed session and evidently learned that hiring an outside investigator would not accomplish CPAB’s goal of reducing the inherent tensions between law enforcement and non-law enforcement members of the community. As with the Sanitation Two investigation, the investigators could not compel anyone to testify; witnesses could not be sworn in and made to tell the truth, nor could they be cross examined; and investigators could not offer any protection against criminal or civil liability if witnesses gave damning testimony against themselves.

In an effort to reduce community tensions, council listened to nearly three hours of community comment and discussion among its own members of how to move beyond the Yates Building incident. And we do need to move on, as the council agenda itself showed. We need to select a route for the light rail system, monitor the development of Chapel Hill North as construction moves ahead, and plan what to do with our garbage and keep our promises to the Rogers Road community. The community comment and discussion on those issues didn’t end until after midnight. And council has scheduled a special session next Monday night to complete last night’s agenda.

Lee Storrow suggested focusing on how police and activists should behave during future incidents of civil disobedience. And Chapel Hill being what it is, there will be more such events.
– Nancy Oates

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  1. runner

     /  January 24, 2012

    “Lee Storrow suggested focusing on how police and activists should behave during future incidents of civil disobedience. And Chapel Hill being what it is, there will be more such events.”

    The Yates incident was not civil disobedience. It was a criminal act.

  2. Terri Buckner

     /  January 24, 2012

    The Boston Tea Party was a criminal act too. Should we strike it from the history books?

  3. Jon DeHart

     /  January 24, 2012

    Did anyone suggest striking it from history ? I would love to be part of the investigation and see what happened . I have heard and read so much about it . I would like to know if Katelyn was actually going in and out of the building .

    So, if someone breaks into your house Terri, and occupies it , what would you like the police to do ?

  4. Terri Buckner

     /  January 24, 2012

    I’ve listened and read everything I can on this incident and I don’t hear anyone, including the protesters, saying they shouldn’t have been required to move out. The issue is HOW it happened, not that it did happen. On a larger front, the question should be how we as a community want to deal with civil disobedience (defined as ‘a public, non-violent and conscientious breach of law undertaken with the aim of bringing about a change in laws or government policies’ per the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).

    I understand that most of the people who post here don’t believe the Yates Bldg rose to the level of acceptable civil disobedience but I want to know what (if anything) *would* rise to a level of acceptability in your estimation.

  5. Nancy Oates

     /  January 24, 2012

    Terri, what I don’t understand is what the activists wanted. They said they would turn the Yates building into community space, but they didn’t ask the town for community space and were turned down. And if the police had asked them to leave, I doubt they would have. So what were they trying to accomplish? It leaves me with the impression that they broke into a building and took it over just to show they weren’t bound by the same laws the rest of us live under. What’s the point in that?

  6. Terri Buckner

     /  January 24, 2012

    Can’t be sure but this scene from Network (1976) is what I think it’s about. In particular I think the small group at Yates wanted to push the Occupy movement into action.

  7. Jon DeHart

     /  January 24, 2012

    Terri, exactly how should police deal with people who have broken into a building, are there illegally , and have said things that are they are willing to commit violence ?

  8. Jon DeHart

     /  January 24, 2012

    The irony to me is that by being an American, living in Chapel Hill, we are in the 1% of the world. So, they are protesting themselves. We have so much to be thankful for by living here in the great country, state , and town.

  9. Don Evans

     /  January 25, 2012

    Yes, Jon, we have a lot to be thankful for. But blind acceptance of police action as right and justified regardless of the circumstances is not one of them.

    If we do not question the decisions and motivations of the police and the protesters, then we abdicate any moral authority to judge. Getting behind the actions and studying the processes that led to them will yield much more than shortsighted, dismissive reactions.

  10. Terri Buckner

     /  January 25, 2012

    The poverty rate in Orange County NC is 16.9%. That’s slightly higher than Durham County (16.4%) and significantly higher than Wake County (10.2%) or Alamance County (15.2%).

    In Chapel Hill, the poverty rate is 23.7% compared to the North Carolina average of 15.1%. Carrboro is 15.1% and Hillsborough is 25.0%.

  11. Jon DeHart

     /  January 25, 2012

    I agree, we always need to learn and have checks and balances in our system. If the police or government have too much power or abuse their power it is a bad thing. The question is, was power abused or did we just not like the selective images that were published by the News and Observer? Were there any images or pictures of the occupiers with their faces covered? There is no doubt that the images were powerful and I don’t think any of us like seeing Police dressed in SWAT gear on Franklin Street.

    Was the display of force greater than needed, I don’t know. It was a potentially volatile situation that could have ended badly. Correct me if I am wrong, no one was injured, police or citizen. Only people who were arrested broke the law.

    I wholly believe in the right to protest, and think the concept of civil disobedience is useful when there are perceived wrongs. However, part of being civilly disobedient is that if you break the laws there are consequences.

    @Mayor Mark – I am willing to lead a citizen commission to investigate. Call or email me…

  12. Fred Black

     /  January 25, 2012

    Terri, are they controlling for our student population in the data?

  13. Terri Buckner

     /  January 25, 2012

    It’s the US census Fred, so I doubt it. But looking at the thresholds they use to define poverty, I doubt if our student population fall under the classification. It would really depend on how those sampled chose to report their incomes (money from parents, scholarships, etc.)

    The fact that Carrboro is significantly lower than Chapel Hill, despite having a large portion of their population coming from the student body supports the assumption that student’s aren’t a factor. Chris Moran has been trying to get the town to understand how significant the poverty problem is for the past couple of years. And the problem continues to grow while we ignore his warnings.

  14. Jon DeHart

     /  January 25, 2012

    There is no way we are at 23 % poverty rate in Chapel Hill when you exclude students .

    There are lies, damn lies and statistics .

  15. Jon DeHart

     /  January 25, 2012

    AND what does poverty statistics have to do with how Police handled the Yates incident ? I am still waiting on your opinion on how specifically how the police should have done things differently . I better not hold my breath …

  16. Terri Buckner

     /  January 25, 2012

    Jon–The police should have asked the people to leave. And if they didn’t leave, they should have been asked a second time and told there wouldn’t be a 3rd request.

    I asked you what you care enough about that you would think civil disobedience was justified……

  17. runner

     /  January 25, 2012

    Terri writes…

    Jon–The police should have asked the people to leave. And if they didn’t leave, they should have been asked a second time and told there wouldn’t be a 3rd request.

    That one made me laugh.

  18. Fred Black

     /  January 25, 2012

    Terri, that was not an act of civil disobedience, that was traditional criminal behavior. Can you think of a case of civil disobedience where property was taken to be used for an organization’s purposes? Remember, they claimed that they were taking an “abandoned” building and putting it to a purpose of their choice.

    Civil disobedience was when people put up tents on a public space and camped out. Of course our leaders said after they did it that they would not enforce the laws on the books. I seem to remember watching each Council member take an oath to do certain things and I didn’t hear the part about picking and choosing which laws we as a Town will follow. Of course, we will see where this takes us in the future.

  19. Terri Buckner

     /  January 25, 2012

    Civil disobedience is defined as ‘a public, non-violent and conscientious *breach of law* undertaken with the aim of bringing about a change in laws or government policies’ by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

    If civil disobedience didn’t include breaking laws, then the civil rights rioters, the Viet Nam protesters, the women’s rights movement, and even good ole Carrie Nation should have jailed. So the issue I keep trying to get at is that individual’s have different value systems. We may never agree on the rightness or wrongness of their actions. And maybe we won’t all agree that it was civil disobedience. But at the very least I would hope that those of you who are being so very firmly convinced of your own position consider what you value enough to break the law in an act of civil disobedience. That you consider the invaluable role civil disobedience has played in giving us all the rights that we have.

    The Freedom Riders broke the laws of the time, but they were unjust laws and needed to be broken. Were the police justified in beating and jailing them? Technically, yes. But that doesn’t make it right.

    To the people who violated the private property rights at the Yates Bldg, the property laws that allow a facility to sit empty while others are homeless is unjust. Were they right in their feelings? Not in everyone’s eyes. Were they expecting to be jailed or forced out? Yes. Does that make this civil disobedience? Yes. Does it make it breaking the law? Yes. Does it justify the extreme force that was used WITHOUT first attempting less extreme measures? Not in my opinion.

    We may just have to agree to disagree on this one, Fred, but I thank you for not mocking me or belittling my position.

  20. Fred Black

     /  January 25, 2012

    You are welcome, and know that this is not personal. By the definition in para. 1, I do not believes this case fits it. We will have to disagree that they were trying to change the law or government policy.

  21. Fred Black

     /  January 25, 2012

    And in this situation, never was EXTREME force ever used

  22. Joe

     /  January 25, 2012

    I certainly hope that the more militaristic leaning people posting here are not suggesting that the police should start dragging people from their cars, pointing guns at the back of their heads, and handcuffing them with their faces in the pavement for not completely stopping at a stop sign.

  23. Jon DeHart

     /  January 25, 2012

    Joe are you comparing breaking and entering , and making threats to Police Officers to a California rolling stop sign ? Not quite apples to apples .

  24. Terri Buckner

     /  January 25, 2012

    Jon–So after the “I won’t hold my breath” snark because I didn’t answer your question, you are still ignoring my question. Or maybe there isn’t anything you care enough to fight for?

    I’m with Joe. If having an assault rifle pointed at your head while you are laying face down on the sidewalk isn’t extreme, we’re working on very different scales.

  25. Scott Maitland

     /  January 25, 2012

    I think we should break into Terri’s house and discuss this 😉

    Seriously, property rights are not unjust so the comparison to civil rights doesn’t work since segregationist laws were unjust. If we were to say that the Yates occupiers actions were just, we would have to say their decision to occupy any private property was just. I hope that concept would not get overwhelming support on this blog.

    Leave Rosa Parks out of this. The more apt comparison is to the Weathermen.

  26. Fred Black

     /  January 25, 2012

    Terri, the term was “extreme force.” You are saying the tactic was extreme and that’s a fair matter of opinion that we can differ about, but that’s not the same thing as extreme force.

  27. Terri Buckner

     /  January 25, 2012

    Fred–what would be an example of extreme force in your opinion?

    Scott–you said “property rights are not unjust so the comparison to civil rights doesn’t work since segregationist laws were unjust.” That’s your opinion. To the protesters, property rights are unjust; they’ve made that statement over and over again. It’s their opinion and they expressed during their action against Greenbridge and again at Yates. Does your opinion matter more than theirs?

    What you and others keep saying is that if you break the law, it is acceptable for the police to stop you using any measure they deem acceptable. I just have a hard time believing you or anyone else who chooses to live in this town could believe that. But maybe you do; maybe the community has changed more than I thought.

  28. Fred Black

     /  January 25, 2012

    Terri, the term “extreme force” is typically associated with the use of a high level of violence. What some have claimed was that there was “excessive force,” which is something all together different.

    I have not seen that a legal definition exists to determine whether a police officer’s use of force is reasonable and necessary or excessive and unlawful. Most times, if a police officer reasonably believed that the force used was necessary, the use of that degree of force will be deemed acceptable. This is why their training is so important, as well as their supervision.

  29. Jon DeHart

     /  January 26, 2012

    I didn’t see a question directed at me , i never get tired of fighting . What is your question ?

  30. Chris Jones

     /  January 26, 2012

    “What you and others keep saying is that if you break the law, it is acceptable for the police to stop you using any measure they deem acceptable. ”

    Terri, I know Scott well enough to speak on his behalf on this one, and feel comfortable that Fred would agree with the statement.

    Nobody is saying what you are inferring above. Instead, it would be appropriate to say that when laws are broken, I trust our local police force (and I’m specifically talking about Chief Blue and his team; I’m aware there are other jurisdictions in this state and country that I may not feel the same) to stop the perpetrators with the amount of force deemed necessary to ensure a resolution that does not harm innocent bystanders. I trust them to pull me over and politely ask for my license when I’m caught speeding; I trust them to gently manuver the drunken lout harrasing passerby’s on Franklin to another location; I trust them to gang-tackle Demario Atwater during the Carson investigation. Why? For the 23 years that I’ve lived or worked in Chapel Hill or Carrboro, they’ve earned my trust.

    Had CHPD commandeered an M-1 Abrahms from Fort Bragg, blown a hole in the front of the Yates Bldg, and driven through, then, yeah, I’d agree that we might have a problem. But see, the problem is, well, they didn’t. They reacted to a unexpected occurence; one where a police officer had already approached and been engaged in a manner that to him felt threatening; and one in which the criminals acted in a manner that could, rightly, be perceived as aggressive (lookouts, papering over windows, loading in strange materials, basically, “digging in”.) The police response was one geared toward an element of society that has committed violence in other locations, and has stated that violence is a means to an end. It was a response that, ideally, and in result, would provide such deterrance that the criminals would follow instructions and not employ violence. CHPD’s actions produced zero injuries, zero damage to property, and zero civil liberties violated (after all, the folks that were arrested were committing a crime).

    In hindsight, was this the appropriate response? Probably not . . . to the casual observer (me), it turns out that they weren’t actual anarchists, just a bunch of kids with a dumb idea and too much time on their hand. Does that make the CHPD response poor? Nope. Does it mean we need to look backwards to assign some sort of blame or fault? Heck no, because, again, I don’t believe that the response, given what was known at the time, was wrong. Instead, we should be looking forward (as I happen to KNOW the CHPD is, if any of you would ever give them the courtesy of listening to their actual statements instead of hearing what you want to hear) to determine how to react better next time, and how to develop better information to know if the criminals involved are a danger to themselves and others, or just stupid kids.

    So, now that I’ve hinted around it, let me make sure to clarify that the following thoughts are mine, and I won’t speak for anyone else: Get off the darn high horse, and quit trying to sell me that these twits are on some noble scale with Rosa Parks or civil rights activists in Alabama. These fools weren’t fighting for anything other than their 15 minutes in the press. The brats that started this whole sordid mess are wholly and completely irrelevant to any real efforts to make this city, this state, or this country a better place to be. They are a nuisance, they are a bother, they are irrelevant. Speaking as one who generally believes that the real “Occupiers” at peace and justice were misguided and misinformed about many of the “facts” that they held so dear, I can at least say that the people at P&J believed in something. I don’t believe for one damn minute that the Yates crew acted for anything other than their satisfaction. There’s my two cents.

  31. I agree with most of what Chris has said.

    A few, not all, of the Yates occupiers and supporters acted like real asshats. Having heard and read some of these same few folks subsequent political rhetoric, I agree that they are more anarchistic posers than anarchist practitioners. These same few folks seem more interested in stirring the pot than anything else (“ACAB”, etc.). I wouldn’t lump them in with Rosa Parks, et. al.

    I’ve seen the CHPD evolve and refine “the Chapel Hill way” of policing for over 3 decades.

    The CHPD has earned our community’s trust by responding to our concerns and, generally, admitting, sometimes quite grudgingly, their mistakes. The CHPD has changed, mostly from hiring talented folks who have shaped the department to meet our Town’s evolving needs aligning with our community values and occasionally in response to extraordinary incidents – Roberson St. raid, Mr. Brown’s detention, etc.

    Chris Blue has said that, in retrospect, the CHPD would do something different. He’s also said they are reviewing procedures and policies to see how best to calibrate responses in the future.

    The initial response from Town Manager Stancil and Mayor Kleinschmidt, to CYA, is unfortunate and has, by far, done more to weaken the community’s trust than Chief Blue. Their tendency to whitewash errors and mistakes has only deepened the cynicism around this event.

    That said, the report that Chief Blue provided was insufficient, the internal review process not clear, the reason for what I think is a systems failure inspected.

    As Chris notes, we expect a proportionate response to given infractions.

    A key element of the CHPD community policing model is to calibrate responses appropriately based on direct engagement. For some reason the CHPD didn’t follow their own stated policies. Their internal decision-making process failed to produce an outcome proportionate to the actual threat. Why?

    Having an outside review – another set of eyes – can only strengthen the CHPD’s effort to improve. Building a factual basis for understanding how the “system” produced this particular outcome is necessary for moving forward.

  32. Terri Buckner

     /  January 30, 2012

    “Get off the darn high horse, and quit trying to sell me that these twits are on some noble scale with Rosa Parks or civil rights activists in Alabama.”

    I never compared the people from Yates to the civil rights activists. I used the civil rights movement as an example of civil disobedience and pointed out that everyone has a different level of tolerance for the various issues people choose to be disobedient against. You cannot suppress the rights of those Chris Weaver calls brats and fools without setting a precedence that will possibly impede public opposition to something you personally think is worthwhile. Or maybe no one in this discussion cares enough about any issue that they would ever be prompted toward civil disobedience.