The city of Chapel Hill, North Carolina made a name for itself over the weekend by sending at least 25 heavily armed commandos to arrest eight unarmed “Occupy” protesters who’d taken over a building left abandoned for over a decade.
Asserting what they thought were squatters’ rights, about 50-75 “Occupy Chapel Hill” demonstrators broke into an abandoned Chrysler building on Saturday night, taping up banners in the windows. They screened a film and danced into the night, with officers only making a single, brief appearance before leaving entirely.
Things changed dramatically by Sunday afternoon, when local media reported that more than 25 commandos armed with assault rifles staged a raid on the building, rushing in to find just eight protesters who’d stayed the night.
Others near the building, including a reporter, had guns drawn on them and were forced to lay on the ground and be placed in handcuffs.
A photo published by The News Observer shows men who look more like soldiers than police, aiming weapons of war at unarmed protesters. The city of Chapel Hill has a population of just 57,000.
“The town has an obligation to the property owners, and the town will enforce those rights,” Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said in a prepared statement.
The group that occupied the building was an offshoot of “Occupy Chapel Hill,” not directed by the main camp’s general assembly. On the “Occupy Chapel Hill” website, they called themselves “some autonomous anti-capitalist occupiers” and explained that taking the building would be their “experiment.”
“All across the US thousands upon thousands of commercial and residential spaces sit empty while more and more people are forced to sleep in the streets, or driven deep into poverty while trying to pay rent that increases without end,” they wrote. “Chapel Hill is no different: this building has sat empty for years, gathering dust and equity for a lazy landlord hundreds of miles away, while rents in our town skyrocket beyond any service workers’ ability to pay them, while the homeless spend their nights in the cold, while gentrification makes profits for developers right up the street.”
City officials said they were “investigating” the ties between the group arrested on Sunday and the “Occupy Chapel Hill” general assembly.
The presence of squatters in an abandoned structure is not technically legal, but it generally requires the property owner to make a complaint before police take action. A main thrust of some cities’ occupations is to get homeless families to occupy foreclosed, bank-owned homes — a course of action endorsed by the general assembly at “Occupy Oakland,” and even a member of Congress.
It was not clear if the property owner in this case made a complaint to the city of Chapel Hill. Police did not release the protesters’ names.
The video below is from WRAL.com, broadcast Sunday, Nov. 13., 2011.
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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