Open Letter to Town Council, Mayor, Manager, Chief of Police Regarding Yates Incident

At the Town Council meeting Monday night, I and many others felt frustrated, after issuing our statements and as the Council was deliberating, unable to respond to or correct the circuitous discussion between council members, Chief Blue, Mr. Stancil, Mayor Kleinschmidt, and Attorney Karpinos. 

I want to congratulate the Council on two tremendous resolutions, regarding the Northside neighborhood and regarding corporate personhood. I am however highly disappointed that, despite many on the Council having acknowledged the numerous inconsistencies, unanswered questions, and omitted facts in the Manager's review and the Police Chief's report, and despite numerous citizens articulately making the case for this independent task force, you did not pass this task force petition. How many in our community spoke in its favor last night - twelve? Thirteen? Public support of the police's actions and Stancil's report were represented by only two individuals - one father to a police officer, and one former police officer; surely there are more who share their opinions, but their convictions are not strong enough to compel them to come to the Council and air their thoughts, as many of us on the other side of these issues did. 

As was made clear in the last Community Police Advisory Committee meeting, this committee is not equipped or tasked to conduct an investigation - only to make recommendations to the town and the police. I read a quotation of chairman Ron Bogle to you last night - a quotation also published in the Independent Weekly - but some of you did not listen: "If you expect this board to conduct a complete, thorough investigative review of police procedures and processes, we are probably not equipped to do that. We don’t possess the professional expertise or the resources to do that job in a thorough way." A video of that CPAC meeting is available online at http://youtu.be/5BujnEMSmdw. As Jim Neal reiterated last night, most or all of us are in full support of the CPAC, but we assert that a parallel, independent task force - unbaised by the Council liaison, Donna Bell, unbiased by the police liaison, Chief of Police Chris Blue, unbiased by the Council-appointed members of this committee. In bringing to your attention what the committee has said about its function and lack of resources, I was hoping to illustrate how the CPAC is no substitute for an independent review, but council members Donna Bell, Matt Czajkowski, and Gene Pease, and Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt, either failed to comprehend this functional difference, or simply refused to acknowledge it. 

I want to thank Councilman Storrow and Councilwoman Easthom for their pertinent questioning of Chief Blue, Manager Stancil, and Mayor Kleinschmidt. Councilwoman Bell, you claimed that none of us had raised questions of the review, that we had only complained and called the town report "lame," when many of us, and some of your fellow council members, had posed numerous relevant questions. For example, Mr. Storrow pressed Chief Blue on Alderman Dan Coleman's assertion - an assertion that was brought to light by a community speaker last night - that there was in fact a civil, lengthy discussion between a police officer and members of the Yates occupation on Sunday, November 13, prior to the SERT raid. This important fact - confirmed last night by Chief Blue - had been completely left off the report, which claimed that the police had tried, unsuccessfully, to address the squatters. A civil and lengthy conversation - a conversation in which, reportedly, the officer gave no mention of the impending SERT raid - does not sound like an unsuccessful attempt at communication. Blue writes many times, this time in Attachment 11, that "our sole attempt to approach the building was cut short when assistant Chief Vereen was confronted and partially surrounded by masked subjects." I don't need to point out that this written statement by the Police Chief is in direct contradiction of his admission last night that an officer engaged in a real conversation with several of the squatters that Sunday morning. 

I also want to thank Councilman Ward and Councilman Harrison for their acknowledgment that the inconsistencies of this report merit an independent review. But I disagree, Mr. Ward, that Jim Neal is biased; any person tasked with forming this commission will have opinions - what is important is that this person (and those appointed to be on the commission) is not under the employ of the Town: not a government official, employee, and not a police officer, former police officer, or legal counsel to the police. Jim Neal, while opinionated as anyone would be, has no interest in preserving the reputation of the town government or the CHPD by nature of simply not being employed by either organization. Thus, he fits the bill as independent. Still, Mr. Neal, and myself and I imagine most or all of the task force supporters, would be happy for someone else to be in charge of forming this task force. 

Councilwoman Rich, I was happy to see that you supported the idea of an independent task force - you recognized the inconsistencies of Stancil's review - and I wish you had followed through with that support. I believe that we as citizens could come back to the next Council meeting with a complete list of the inconsistencies, unanswered questions, and omissions from the Town review, and with a clearly defined description of an independent task force and how it would work, and win over your vote, thus gaining at least a 5-4 majority. I personally will not be doing this - I will instead, along with others, be uncovering the mistakes and falsehoods of Stancil's review, and Blue's report, and presenting real, confirmed anecdotes from others involved whose voices were not considered in the construction of the Town and Police conclusions. At a later date, we will be publicly airing these findings and will invite all local media to cover this event. 

But, for the record, I would now like to point out one glaring error on the part of our police, an error that Chief Blue repeats in his report, and an error on which the decision to deploy the SWAT team was based. This is an error in interpretation of the pamphlet handed out by the squatters to passersby (Attachment 3). The reference to Occupy Oakland on which Chief Blue puts so much weight is one photo of a banner stating "Occupy Everything" in a window. Additionally, a blog post by “trianarchy” (from Attachments 4 and 5) included one description of that night in the Yates building, when the occupants had a dance party (I can think of worse things), and in the background, projected on the wall, were images including scenes from Oakland, where protesters broke the windows of big banks. Does the screening of a video, and the reprinting of a photo of a banner, indicate malicious intent? If I have people over to my house to watch a murder mystery, am I advocating murder? Blue horribly misinterpreted the language on this pamphlet. While Blue claims that the pamphlet deems peaceful occupations ineffective, this pamphlet in fact proposes that peaceful occupations are possible remedies to “speaking truth to power,” which has failed. It is idle speech that they were questioning, and peaceful occupations for which they were advocating. This is why they peacefully occupied the building. Blue has come to a conclusion that is fundamentally opposite to the primary intent of the building's occupiers. Is proposing an occupation of an old, abandoned building, with plans for a library and media center, an art studio, child care, a stage, yoga classes, a welcome center - a demonstration that peaceful occupations don’t work? The squatters write, “we offer this building as an experiment, a possible way forward.” Those are not the words of activists who think they need to attack police or overturn their cars. Those are the words of activists who are sick of requests and demands falling flat, activists who believe in action, like turning a decaying eyesore into a hub for community, self-betterment, art, music, exercise, and education. Blue’s numerous references to this pamphlet (Attachment 3) and two other attachments that include the "trianarchy" description and reprint the text from this pamphlet (Attachments 4 and 5), and his tactical decisions based on his misinterpretation of these publications, should be discounted, as they are based on his own incorrect conclusions of the language.

I've written enough. I sincerely hope that you council members - while some of you disagree with me - will think about why I, a Durham resident, someone who wasn't at the Yates building that weekend, someone without any close friends held at gunpoint that afternoon, would take the time to attend two council meetings, give a statement at one of them, attend the CPAC meeting, write lengthy emails like this one, and scour the town review and police report in the two or three days we had to read it between its release and the council meeting last night. It is because I, alongside many other community members, was shocked, horrified, disgusted, and terrified by the SWAT raid on November 13 - so much so, that it has hindered my sleep, it has taken me away from my dissertation writing, it has monopolized countless conversations I've had with friends and family. Some of you know that in order to regain the trust of your constituents, you're going to have to endorse an independent task force - or at least, after we have done our work, acknowledge the failings of the internal review and the merits of our discoveries. Much like the Occupy movement, whose influence is still - amazingly - discounted by its objectors, I think you underestimate the amount of community mistrust that originally resulted from the SERT deployment, but also a great deal from your failure to address it appropriately, and your endorsement of the one-sided, incomplete, often factually incorrect review by Manager Stancil and Police Chief Blue. I think you underestimate how your lack of action will play out next time you are up for reelection. I applaud council members like Ms. Easthom and Mr. Storrow for daring to speak out against the internal workings of the government which employs them, and the police force that is supposed to serve and protect us all. Down the road, when police militarization reaches a point of climax, a point of utter tragedy, and this trend is finally reversed, members of government like those who supported the independent investigation will be remembered for having been on the right side. 

If you've read this far, I appreciate that you care enough to do so, whether or not you agree with my position.

Tags: 

issue: 

Total votes: 1

11 Comments

Ruby Sinreich's picture

I care, and I agree

Thanks for this excellent and substantive post! I assume you also sent it to mayorandcouncil@townofchapelhill.org. I completely agree with your conclusions, and am really disheartened that the majority of the Council does not seem to understand how hurt and upset people are. I also don't think they have grasped the implications of having a municipal government and especially a police force that is widely mistrusted by its citizens. I still think the town government is made up almost entirely of very hard-working and well-intentioned staff and leaders. But they are not infallible. Clearly someone screwed up when they decided to raid the Yates Building with no prior warning to its occupants, and apparently in direct contradiction to previous conversations with the Mayor.  Until the Town (and probably some specific staff members) admit this mistake, and implement some consequences for it, people will continue to wonder whose side they are on.

I imagine even some who

I imagine even some who voted against the independent task force are well-intentioned and truly have the rights of the citizens in mind. But the matter still stands: the public is outraged and now mistrusts its leadership and law enforcement. Good intention or not, the government has failed us. The Yates mistake was bad enough - now the Council, by a close 5-to-4 vote, is complicit in the Manager and Police Department's cover up. The CPAC is only able to advise and ask questions of the very people who generated this incomplete and often incorrect review - thus, we need an autonomous board.  In 1990, the Town settled for 200,000 dollars for an inappropriate SWAT raid. Something tells me they're scared this could happen again. 

czei's picture

It depends on who you talk to

I guess it depends on who you talk to.  The only people I've talked to about this issue who side with the anarchists on are this blog.  Everyone I've talked to in person thought the police acted appropriately given the circumstances.As to wether a warning was given, the police say yes, and the anarchists say no, but ultimately I think the point doesn't matter.  As a parent, I see other parents warning their kids over and over again when the kid is doing something wrong, and all that does it create an unthinking sense of entitlement where the main issue isn't the kid's own actions, but rather did they get a warning or not.  Instead, I want to raise children who will think before they act, and then take responsibility for their actions.  The anarchists have made no moves I know of to admit to any culpability whatsoever in what happened, and instead have taken the point of view its their right to seize whatever private property they wish. Even if you disagree with how the police handled the situation, do you really think the anarchists hold zero responsibility and the police all of it? 

Ruby Sinreich's picture

Correction

No-one, including the police, has claimed that there was ever any warning given to the people in or around that building that they were going to be arrested, detained, or even made to leave at some specific time. I asked the Chief about this myself at the press conference in November. They wanted to have the element of surprise, and boy did that work.

czei's picture

Individuals wearing masks

Yes, according to the report an attempt to have a conversation with the group was “met by individuals wearing masks who partially surrounded him and chanted anti-police rhetoric," so presumably no conversation was able to take place.  Other people have reported there were additional interactions, but I don't see how it matters one way or the other.  This group tried to confiscate private property and were arrested with no injuries. If there were injuries or the police broke up lawful exercise of the 1st ammendment rights then I'd be concerned about police misconduct. 

One other inconsistency

There's another glaring inconsistency omitted from Alex's letter. On Monday night, Chief Blue stated that two members of the Downtown Partnership were asked by the police to talk to the Yates bldg occupiers. CHPD asked a couple of civilians to enter a facility inhabited with people so dangerous that they themselves were afraid to talk to them and a SWAT team was required to remove them? 

Geoff Gilson's picture

Citizen Oversight of Police

There are times I am the idealist. And then, there are times I have to be the realist.The reality is that, however persuasive we are with each other about the inconsistencies of the Stancil Report (and I have written elsewhere about my own concerns with the purpose and activities of the visiting Police Officers from other municipalities), this Town Council is not going to consider forming an Independent Commission before the Community Policing Advisory Board has reported, if at all. And that will likely not be before March.I believe, therefore, it is time for Jim Neal to consider just going ahead and forming this Commission on his own. It is one thing for the Town Council to ignore the public when that Council is the one setting the agenda. I suspect it would be quite different if it was an Independent Commission setting the agenda and the pace. I wonder how long it would be before that same Town Council found themselves pressured by public opinion to collaborate with such a focused Commission?All of that said, I now find myself perhaps sounding a note of caution that some might view as a complete about-face. I want all the facts to come out. I believe that is a first step to re-building trust. But it is just that. A first-step. It is not, and should not be, the be all and end all.The most important task facing any Independent Commission is going to be devising a solution to ensure that the citizens of our community are never again caught off-guard by the nature of our law enforcement. And that holds true whether or not, in foresight or hindsight, we believe the Police acted properly.I have heard from too many, even those who believe the Police were correct in their actions, that those actions nevertheless surprised them. We should not be surprised by the behavior of our law enforcement agencies.I believe the only way to avoid such surprise going forward is to design a means of oversight of our Police Department, that has elected officials closely monitoring law enforcement policy and strategy within our community.This is not radical, left-wing poppycock. This is the system in the land of my birth (Great Britain). Where, indeed, a Conservative-led Government is openly advocating for such oversight bodies to be directly-elected, to ensure citizen-control of law enforcement.Now, I stress that such oversight should be of policy and strategy - not operations and tactics. But it should be sufficiently rigorous that our local Police forces, for whom we normally have so much praise, never again find themselves subjected to the level of criticism we have seen in the past couple of months; never find themselves at the mercy of rogue behavior; and never find themselves subjected to pressure from agencies outside of our community.We, as citizens, want protection by and from our Police forces. And they want and deserve our protection in return. That will only come with trust rebuilt A trust I believe will only flow from a clear division of responsibility. We the people set the policy. Our Police forces then implement that policy within agreed guidelines, established by those same citizens.

CPAC calls for an independent investigation

The Community Policing Advisory committee, charged with reviewing police actions in the Yates Building incident, voted unanimously to petition the Chapel Hill Town Council to pay for an independent investigator to verify the timeline of events that took place on November 13. 

http://www.chapelboro.com/Police-Advisory-Board-Calls-For-Investigation-...

Committee Vice Chair Jessica Smith: “That review process was insufficient in two primary ways. One, it was one-sided in that the only people who appear to have been consulted in connection with the internal review were the police and other related agencies. Second, there seem to be many, many questions that are unanswered by that first cut at a factual review.”

czei's picture

The excuses of anarchists

"Those are not the words of activists who think they need to attack police or overturn their cars. Those are the words of activists who are sick of requests and demands falling flat, activists who believe in action, like turning a decaying eyesore into a hub for community, self-betterment, art, music, exercise, and education."Please provide evidence that the activists made any attempt to find a location for any activities without seizing private property.  There's a community center two blocks away from the Yates building, and if that wasn't sufficient Chapel Hill is very diligent about providing public facilities for its citizens.For example, one of the things they wanted the Yates building for was as a library.  It would never occur to them to approach the library the town is spending millions of dollars on to request that it carry anarchist books.  Instead, they'd rather just take what they want, and use the term "library" as a lame justification for their actions.To me its clear the goal of the anarchists that siezed the Yates building was not any of the things they stated in the brochure, but all of the things they have stated on public blogs and their own websites.  Because they believe in the overthrow of government, they aren't about to work with local government for anything.  When people wearing masks surround the deputy police chief, its because  "we use violence to get what we want, that's clear." In the end, its clear to me the Yates building invasion was intended first and foremost as a vehicle to see what they could get away with on the path toward their revolution, and secondarily as an anarchist dance club.  We as a society have collectively decided to respect each other's property, and I expect that any further attempts by groups to confiscate private property will be met with similar force.Unfortunately I was unable to get to the town council meeting because I'm recovering from surgery.  I could have hobbled in, but I fully expected to be shouted down like the anarchists did at the last meeting at best, and would be unable to defend myself at worst.