Wielding assault rifles, about 20 police in riot gear stormed a derelict commercial property in the heart of Chapel Hill, NC, on Sunday afternoon, arresting activists who had taken over the space the night before. According to the Raleigh News & Observer, dozens shouted, “Shame! Shame! Shame!” as the arrests were made. The Chapel Hill Transit bus used to transport the arrestees had a Wells Fargo ad, prompting the chant, “Who do they serve? Wells Fargo! Who do they protect? Wells Fargo!”
Watch amateur video of the arrests:
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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. 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.
The occupation was “not orchestrated by Occupy Chapel Hill,” the flyers explained. Occupy Chapel Hill began three weeks ago with an encampment of about a dozen tents on the small plaza in front of the post office, across from the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill. The occupiers have had no conflicts with police before today. Some of the members of Occupy Chapel Hill at the original encampment expressed concern to ThinkProgress on Saturday night about the decision to occupy the derelict building. Other original members participated in the Chrysler occupation, bringing supplies and food to the squatters.
The building has been left vacant since 2003 by real estate magnate Joe Riddle, III, of Fayetteville, NC. In 2004, Riddle claimed he would develop the lot containing the building, its adjoining 60-car parking lot, and a building next door with “retail and restaurant space, housing and parking.” Since then, Chapel Hill public officials and business owners have grown frustrated for years that Riddle has left the space derelict.
The “autonomous anti-capitalist occupiers” who reclaimed the empty building on Saturday had drawn up plans for transforming it into a space for civic engagement and public support. The plans, acquired by ThinkProgress, call for dividing the space into a free store, kitchen, clinic, performance space, school, workshop, library, and dormitory. A free yoga class Sunday afternoon was the first such use of the space, just before the arrests.
There were eight protesters arrested for misdemeanor breaking and entering. All have been released without bail, according to Occupy Durham participant Jillian Johnson.
“The Town has an obligation to the property owners,” Mark Kleinschmidt, the mayor of Chapel Hill, explained on his blog, “and the Town will enforce those rights, just as it will work to continue facilitating the exercise of free speech.”