Carrboro CVS protesters plan next move

Resident says they're late to the issue

mschultz@newsobserver.comFebruary 6, 2012 

— A day after a group of anti-capitalist activists briefly took over a building in downtown Carrboro, 35 people huddled on the lawn to discuss next steps.

Demonstrators occupied the former WCOM community radio station building Saturday night to protest a CVS drug store proposed for the site at 201 N. Greensboro St. They left after about four hours when police told them to get out or they'd be arrested.

"Any two-story, paved building owned by a corporation is not what the community envisioned for this space," demonstrator Maria Rowan told a half-dozen reporters Sunday. "There are 'No CVS' signs all over this town."

The signs dot the yards of many of the mostly mill houses in the area. But Center Street resident Jeff Herrick, who was not part of the Saturday takeover, said the demonstrators are coming late to the issue.

Herrick, who is married to Carrboro Alderwoman Michelle Johnson but said he was speaking for himself, said residents concerned about traffic and the impact on their neighborhood have been talking to the town and developers for months. The developers will hold what Herrick thinks will be the fourth meeting to show the latest version of their plans at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Carrboro Town Hall, 301 W. Main St.

"It's very boring, and it's not as exciting as taking over a building," he said of the talks. "But that's the way it works in Carrboro."

On Saturday, demonstrators refused to identify themselves, explain how they got inside the building or discuss their plans. They issued a news release saying they planned to stay there for an extended time. A giant sign in the lobby said "Under capitalism we're all under gunpoint."

"Please leave this property," Mayor Mark Chilton told the group in a loud voice at about 7 p.m. "You're trespassing, and there may be other crimes you're committing as well. The time has come for you to leave this building."

Minutes later, Police Chief Carolyn Hutchison and a Carrboro police officer entered the building and told everyone to leave.

The demonstrators left, but a crowd of about 50 people gathered outside the building as five officers blocked the front doors.

As in the Yates Motor raid in Chapel Hill in November, the occupiers said they wanted to turn a vacant building into one serving the community.

"CVS wants to build their corporate chain store in the heart of our town, regardless of what we think," according to a pamphlet. "Our economic system values profit over people, and local politicians send in the SWAT team when we challenge this. So we decided to do something about it."

As the crowd stood outside, a young masked man who gave a name Johnny Moran started to shout about police, inequality and a prison system that perpetuates slavery.

"You're talking about our Police Department," Chilton responded. "You're trying to give our Police Department a bad name."

The masked man raised a gloved hand in the air. "I am an anarchist!" he said. "That means I don't have dialogue with politicians. I think we need a social revolution."

Chilton said he had come to personally ask the demonstrators to leave because Chapel Hill officials have been criticized for not doing that before sending in a heavily armed tactical team into the Yates Motor building. By contrast, Chilton said Carrboro police removed the demonstrators "in an outstanding, nonthreatening way."

The crowd began to chant, cursing the police and saying, "All we want is freedom, freedom."

Resident Stephen Dear, the director of People of Faith Against the Death Penalty, urged calm. "The more we demonize each other, the more we do a disservice to each other."

But the shouting continued. "This should be a community center, not a CVS," one demonstrator yelled. When several people said the two sides could not speak as equals because the police had guns, Chilton opened his coat.

"Look under here," he said. "It's skin. I'm a human being."

Carrboro Alderwoman Jacquie Gist praised Chilton's calm response to the confrontation. "Ain't our mayor amazing?" she said Saturday night as the crowd began to disperse. "I'm so proud."

Staff writer Bruce Siceloff contributed to this report.

Schultz: 919-932-2003

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