My Call 2012

Stepping out of news-director mode for a moment. Who wants prognostications? Here are five predictions for this year’s election. (Not necessarily reflective of how I want it to go.)


1.      It’s going to be 2004 all over again, in reverse. History tends to repeat itself—and for a while there in 2009 and 2010, I was convinced the 2012 election would be a rerun of 1984, except this time with the Democrat rolling to victory. All the pieces were falling into place. The economy was in the tank, but recessions don’t last forever; I figured by 2012 things would be improving—just in time for Obama to pull out the same “Morning In America” message Ronald Reagan used when his economy was recovering from ’82. Meanwhile, the other side would find itself so devoid of qualified candidates that it would have to fall back on the last-ditch option: the losing VP candidate from the previous election. In 1984, it was Walter Mondale; in 2012, it would have been…well, you know.

So I figured, hey, easy Obama landslide. But no. Sure, the economy’s in recovery, but not in a “morning in America” way—more of a “gosh, I think Duke might actually have a decent football team this year” way. And She-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named flamed out before she even had a chance to be a last-ditch nominee, so the Republicans went and found someone else—not a great candidate either, but so much for my Mondale parallel.
So 1984’s out, then. But what’s happening instead seems to be a rerun of 2004: a fairly close election, won narrowly by an incumbent who’s just popular enough to squeak by a weak opponent. That opponent, incidentally, is Mitt Romney, a man who violates the single most important, A-number-one, John Kerry rule of presidential politics: Don’t nominate the awkward white guy from Massachusetts.
(Seriously, you’d think after seeing Michael Dukakis riding in a tank, the party bosses wouldn’t keep doing this to themselves.)
Romney’s really not a bad candidate; he probably wouldn’t be a terrible president—but politically he’s weak in all the same ways Kerry and Dukakis were weak: he’s a flip-flopper to the point of absurdity, he comes off as so privileged he’s lost all sense of perspective, and frankly his base doesn’t like him very much. Conventional wisdom says if you’re going to win a presidential election you have to nominate someone who appeals to the center—but there’s scholarly research showing that Karl Rove actually had it right: you can’t win unless you appeal to the base. Nominating the “electable” candidate is a dead end. It’s counterintuitive, but the GOP might have given themselves a better shot if they’d gone with Rick Santorum. (Try getting that image out of your dreams tonight.)
Which isn’t to say that Romney can’t win. Obama is beatable, after all, just as George W. Bush was beatable in ’04. But the polls are suggesting another narrow win for the incumbent, by about the same margin as eight years ago—and if Obama does win, it will have been a missed opportunity for the GOP, just as it was for the Dems in ’04.
(Incidentally, the Kerry Rule only applies to awkward white guys from Massachusetts; the JFK Corollary proves that attractive white guys from Massachusetts can still win. The right shoulda gone with Scott Brown.)
2.      Mitt Romney will win North Carolina. Forget the polls, just look at the early-voting numbers. Sure, they look great for Obama—until you compare them with the early-voting numbers from 2008, which looked a heck of a lot better for Obama, and then reflect on the fact that Obama won here in ’08 by about eight votes. Any shift to the right is going to result in a Romney victory, and the early-voting totals are indicating a pretty clear shift to the right. Evidence: more people voted early in NC this year, but fewer people voted early in Orange County; the percentage of early voters who were Democrats was down slightly this year versus four years ago, both here in Orange and across the state; and the average age of early voters was up by a couple years. (Seniors? Not Obama fans. Let’s not speculate why.)
Result: Romney to win NC by 2-3 points. But hey, maybe the Obama camp knows something I don’t: a couple weeks ago they started pulling their people out of NC, but suddenly in the few days before the election, they sent Michelle Obama and Bill Clinton our way. (And we didn’t call Joe Biden to set up an interview—his people called us.) Obviously they think they can win here—or else they’re so sure they’ve got the election locked up everywhere else that they’re just trying to make it more of an ’08-style landslide. I doubt it, but we’ll see.
3.      Somewhere, voters are going to legalize gay marriage by ballot referendum for the first time, and we’ll have North Carolina to thank. Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington are all voting on the same-sex marriage issue this week. Minnesotans are voting on a constitutional amendment defining marriage as one man/one woman, same as we did here in May—so even if they vote it down, the state still won’t recognize same-sex marriages. But the stakes are even higher in the other three states, where a vote in favor of same-sex marriage is actually a vote in favor of same-sex marriage: if voters in Maine or Maryland or Washington give the go-ahead, that state will begin (or continue) recognizing same-sex marriages (with all the rights and privileges befalling thereunto).
Any of those four votes could be historic. The thing about ballot referendums is that they’re not particularly kind to minority groups—statistically, voters at the polls are more likely to vote against minority rights and interests than legislators in the state house. (Which is what happens when you put minority rights up to a majority vote. The Progressive movement clearly didn’t read their Federalist Papers.) And so it has gone with the LGBT community: thirty states have put same-sex marriage before the voters, and voters in all thirty states have said no. (In Arizona it took two tries. That’s as good as it’s gotten so far.)
But this time, this year, it’s going to be different. In all four states, according to polls, the pro-gay marriage side is winning. In all four states! It may not work out that way—Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling warns that undecided voters historically break against same-sex marriage in the end—but it’s almost a sure thing that at least one state, and probably more, will vote in favor.
If that happens—when that happens—we’ll be able to look back on the Amendment 1 vote back in May as a turning point. (One of many, of course.) 2012 is the year when the same-sex marriage debate turned the corner—when the pros became the majority and the antis were the ones on the defensive; when it became more controversial to say “I’m against” than it was to say “I’m in favor” (hence Chick-Fil-A); when the President actually had the guts to come out and say what we all knew he was thinking anyway. And that had a lot to do with the fight in North Carolina this spring—where a vote on gay marriage actually came down to the wire (sort of), in the middle of the Bible Belt of all places. Obama came out as a supporter the very next day—and here we are. For same-sex marriage supporters, the Amendment 1 vote was a defeat—but it was a defeat that showed the weakness of the other side, a defeat that signaled a shifting of the winds. When the history of the same-sex marriage debate is written, 2012 will be the most important year—and the Amendment 1 fight in North Carolina may loom as large in that history as the Proposition 8 debate in California.
So, hey. Next time you see Mark Kleinschmidt, shake his hand.
4.      Democrats will probably maintain their local monopoly, but expect at least one close vote. The GOP presence in Orange County is growing stronger, but it’s always going to be a minority voice: there’s a reason Jesse Helms said all those nasty things about Chapel Hill, after all. The Republicans have a relatively strong slate of candidates in the local races this year, but for the most part they’re running against opponents who are simply too well-known and too well-liked to lose. It’s possible to overcome a big name-recognition gap, but only if you’re running alongside a rolling tide of anti-incumbent dissatisfaction, and that’s not really the case in Orange County this year. (If the May primary’s any indication, there’s some dissatisfaction with the Board of County Commissioners—but it’s coming from the left more than the right, so not as much help for Mary Carter.)
But it’s not impossible for Republicans to win here—all it’ll take is the right set of circumstances. Take a tide of dissatisfaction, maybe an economic downturn, and add a strong, socially liberal GOP candidate with crossover appeal (smart, youthful, pro-gay, pro-environment, pro-social justice, pro-business, anti-tax) running against a weaker or lesser-known Democrat. Dave Carter will put up numbers that’ll surprise some people this year; I don’t imagine he’ll beat Ellie Kinnaird, but against a different opponent—maybe. (And he’ll keep it closer than usual: 54 percent of early voters in NC Senate District 23 were Democrats; compare to 59-60 percent in 2008 and 2010.)
But Dave Carter isn’t my dark horse. Watch the race in NC House 50—which comprises all of Orange County’s rural, more conservative precincts and leaves out most of the more progressive urban center. That makes things more interesting—Bill Faison faced a semi-close race in 2010, and Valerie Foushee doesn’t have the incumbency advantage on her side. Foushee still has the edge over Republican pastor Rod Chaney, but only a slight edge: dollars to donuts this ends up being the closest local race, and if any Republican has a chance to win in Orange County this year, it’s Chaney. Here’s the number worth noting: only 52 percent of early voters in NC House 50 were Democrats. To put that into perspective, Democrats made up 58 percent of early voters in the district in 2010, and Faison ended up winning 56 percent of the total vote. So watch that one closely.
5.      The transit tax? Who knows. This debate feels an awful lot like the debate on the quarter-cent sales tax back in 2010, when it narrowly failed. But then again—voters in Durham County voted for the half-cent transit tax and the quarter-cent economic development/education tax simultaneously last year, and they actually supported the transit proposal by a wider margin. If Orange voters are the same way—more comfortable with a half-cent for transit than a quarter-cent for development—then the transit tax should pass, at least by a little bit. (Opponents of the tax in Orange County point out that Durham gets more of the proposed light-rail line than Orange would—so presumably Durham voters would have been keener on it—but still, that light-rail line wouldn’t run anywhere near northern or eastern/southeastern Durham, and voters there approved it anyway.) Regardless, though, this and NC House 50 will be the two closest local votes.
So there you have it. Polls close at 7:30 tonight, and if I’m wrong—well, then I’ll just be in the same company as every other pundit in America.

Cell Phones, Towing, & Teachers

Back in April I wrote about the Chapel Hill Town Council (CHTC) banning both handheld and hands-free cell phone use by drivers (with limited exceptions).  

The point of my column then was not to root for distracted driving; it was to point out the pointless use of public (staff) time and money in defending this law, when the CHTC had an opinion from the North Carolina Attorney General’s office that it may be unenforceable.  Yes, the opinion said “may”.  It didn’t say “not”.  But with the scales of justice tipped against you and lots of other priorities facing the town, I questioned the decision.  

Turns out both the Attorney General’s office and I were right.  Don’t you just love how I managed to puff myself up there?  Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson’s reason was in line with the AG’s office opinion: the town can’t enact laws where state law is comprehensive.  So, given that ruling, is this the finale of this folly?  Or should I prepare to stop listening to WCHL in the morning because that Ron Stutts fellow can be awfully distracting.  

In that same ruling Judge Hudson struck down the town’s law regulating towing.  His reasoning there was that it violates the state constitution by regulating trade.  

In Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt’s response (at bottom of this link) to the double loss in court, he spoke of only one: the towing ordinance.  I’m hoping his targeted response indicates his view of the town’s future priorities.

As to the towing regulations, we rarely hear from the businesses that contract with the towing companies.  Clearly the property owners must agree to allow cameras affixed so the towing companies can pounce the minute someone places a toe off property.  Do the property owners get a piece of the fee car owners must pay?  That would explain why they believe it’s in their businesses’ best interests to allow such practices.  I wonder if we polled those who’ve had their car towed from a downtown business if we’d find many of them had eagerly returned to spend money downtown, and more pointedly, to the business from which their car was towed.  Perhaps the business owners who encourage, condone and contract with towing companies are cutting off their proverbial noses?  Unless of course they are making money from the towing.  

Let me know what you think of my many opinions by writing to me at

p.s.  I continue to receive an extraordinary amount of email regarding my previous columns (one and two) on the involuntary transfer of Chapel Hill High School teachers Anne Thompson and Bert Wartski.  Among the correspondents, Mr. Wartski, who has offered to waive his confidentiality rights with regard to the Chapel Hill Carrboro City School Board’s review and subsequent denial of his appeal of the transfer.  So, can we learn the whole story now?

Ron Stutts Retrospective

Last week WCHL celebrated the 35th Anniversary of Ron Stutts’ start at the station. Surely you noticed, with all the on-the-air promos and all the guests and surprises in the studio last Friday morning.
Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt declared it Ron Stutts week in Chapel Hill. Former mayor of Chapel Hill Howard Lee and his wife Lillian came in to express their appreciation. Chapel Hill police chief Chris Blue and fire chief Dan Jones came in and presented Ron with a First Responders T-shirt, since ‘CHL seems to usually be first to inform the community of dangers and natural disasters, such as the devastating December 2002 ice storm that hit the area just a few weeks after the station “came back” to Chapel Hill from Durham. Former Carrboro mayor and current state senator Ellie Kinnaird came in to thank Ron for his service.

Ron with Ellie Kinnaird and Freddie Kiger (Photo Credit: Richard Taylor)

There were dozens more, including phone calls and appearances from some of Ron’s on-the-air compatriots from years past. Of course, Ron’s regular cronies Dr. Wayne Pond and Freddie Kiger were there with humor and insight as well. WCHL station manager Christy Dixon and owner Barry Leffler orchestrated all the celebrations. Numerous promos ran on-air all week.
As we ponder Mister Stutts’ contributions, we are blessed to have Ron and his comedic cast of characters to wake us up weekdays, compared to the formulaic morning zoo madness heard on most radio stations nationwide. Sure, Ron gives us the news, so aptly prepared by Aaron Keck and the award-winning ‘CHL news department. But Ron informs us and entertains us as well.
He’s a master at the control board and produces the show himself. That would take three jobs in New York or L.A.
Ron knows how to laugh at himself. When he makes a rare mistake, Ron includes us, his listeners, as he owns the joke and rolls on. Most listeners don’t realize all the preparation and behind-the-scenes work Ron performs each day to make the next day’s show sing. He schedules Commentators like me to give our best 90 seconds. He finds our daily Hometown Heroes, produces their stories and even brings in Pets of the Week. He emcees dozens of local events and charities each year and records numerous station spots and promos. Sure, Ron is the voice of WCHL, but he’s also the voice of the local community as well.
So, thanks for your longevity, Ron Stutts. You’re just as much a Hometown Hero as anyone Gerald Ramoin ever put in the spotlight. You’re the glue that holds us together, and we really appreciate it.

See you on the radio.

Ron Stutts’ 35th Anniversary July 27, 2012 (Photo Credit: Richard Taylor)

Transforming Lives… and Africa’s Future

ABAN’s headquarters are here on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, but its mission is in Ghana, Africa.  Founded by UNC student Callie Brauel, and kick-started into high gear by a $15,000 Carolina Challenge Grant in 2010, ABAN is an example of the strong international social entrepreneurships being born right here in Chapel Hill. 

ABAN is an organization working to solve two problems with one united solution. Every day, over 40 tons of plastic waste is thrown onto the streets of Accra, Ghana. Every night, over 30,000 children fall asleep on those same streets. ABAN works with 20 street girls to help them learn a trade, make a living, and secure a future, as well as receive the tools to transform their city into a healthier environment.  (See 2-minute video here)

In ABAN’s two-year Empowerment Program, these young women (ages 16-19) produce handmade accessories from Ghanaian batik fabric and upcycled plastic bags from the streets of Accra.  The young women make each product by hand, empowering them to rise out of poverty by providing them with fair wages, shelter, and vocational skills.  Each product also reduces the amount of litter that fundamentally threatens the well-being of Accra’s residents.

In addition to these vocational skills, ABAN provides the young women with shelter, classes (business, English, math, and Life Skills Education), and the means to save, matching their individual savings upon graduation. At the end of this intensive two-year program, the young women will have the tools they need to change their lives and provide for themselves, their children, and, ultimately, their community.

ABAN’s products are sold online as well as at several locations in Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and Durham, including Foster’s, Jackson, Cameron’s, Modern Fossil, and Whole Foods in Durham.

ABAN is hosting a spring fundraiser from 4:30-6:30 this Sunday, May 6th, at the Botanical Gardens.  Hors d’oeuvres will be provided by Vimala’s Curryblossom Café.  ABAN founder Callie Brauel, Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt and Judith Cone, Assistant to the Chancellor for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, will speak at the event. 

If you are interested in attending or making a donation, please visit their website ( and click on the “RSVP Here” button under the “Sweep Across North Carolina” banner or e-mail

Sunday’s gathering, in support of women thousands of miles away from Chapel Hill, is a wonderful example of “Nkonsonkonson” — the Ghanaian saying for “unity and human relations.”

Harvesting Books on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Last week I was keeping my ears and eyes open for a great photo story to tell and happened to hear about a wonderful organization called Book Harvest. The founder of Book Harvest, Ginger Young, was being interviewed on WCHL by Ron Stutts about their MLK Day Book Drive. This organization, which is only one-year-old, has successfully collected and distributed 35,000 books to low-income children in its first year alone.

Suzanne DeConto, an Americorp volunteer, reads a book to Sophie O’Malley and Lila Ashdown, both four-years-old, at Book Harvest’s book drive at Flyleaf Books on Monday, January 16, 2012.

Why Books?
Several studies have shown that the biggest predictor of academic success for children is the presence of books at home. More so than other factors, such as parents’ education levels, income or geographic location, reading books prepares a child for success by teaching language acquisition. Just 15 minutes of reading before bedtime exposes a child to millions of words per year.

The Problem
Studies have also shown that there is a startling difference in rates of book ownership among low-income and higher-income children. These studies showed that above 50% of low-income children owned no books at all. Ginger Young and her army of loyal, hardworking volunteers are hoping to change that.

I met with Robin Sheedy, one of these volunteers, last week. She was on the schedule to pick up donated books and distribute them to the Interfaith Council for Social Service and the Carrboro Community Health Center. She patiently reorganized the bookshelf as she added new books. The idea is that the children should choose books that pique their interest. As they eagerly read these books they will begin to view themselves as readers. The hope is that they build home libraries that the whole family can use.

A Tribute to MLK
Martin Luther King, Jr. came from a family that valued education and books. His early involvement with books predicted that he would succeed in school, which he did as he held a doctorate in philosophy from Boston University. In his words:

All I’m saying is simply this, that all life is interrelated, that somehow we’re caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. You can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.

– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Matt Phillips and the Philharmonics came all the way from Greenville to support Book Harvest. Here they sang, “Happy Birthday,” to Book Harvest and to Martin Luther King, Jr.
Matt Phillips and the Philharmonics came all the way from Greenville to support Book Harvest. Here they sang, “Happy Birthday,” to Book Harvest and to Martin Luther King, Jr.

Christine Woolford and Danielle Faerber were on hand to help sort books.
Christine Woolford and Danielle Faerber were on hand to help sort books.

Leon Carter and Deb Wong, were among the 40 Americorp volunteers that helped to keep Monday’s event running smoothly.
Leon Carter and Deb Wong, were among the 40 Americorp volunteers that helped to keep Monday’s event running smoothly.

Left, Ginger Young addresses the crowd. Right, Sarah Carr reads a book about Dr. King.
Left, Ginger Young addresses the crowd. Right, Sarah Carr reads a book about Dr. King.

From left to right, Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton, Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt, Book Harvest founder Ginger Young, author Daniel Wallace and Minister Robert Campbell spoke to the crowd about the value of books and Dr. King’s legacy of service.

How to Get Involved
Supporting Book Harvest is easy. You can donate a life-changing book at many area locations. Or you can donate money . If you are really inspired you can become a Book Harvest volunteer or run a book drive of your own. It is easy! I had 12 children coming over this past weekend for my son’s birthday party and asked the parents to bring any gently used books they did not want. Many did and we were able to donate many bags of books on Monday. Talk about an easy way of spreading a love of learning!

Comments or questions? Please write to me at

An Open Letter to the Town Council

Re: About last night’s Council meeting, and my statement from last night, (Monday January 9) regarding the Yates incident.

At the bottom of this message is the text from my statement last night, with a few additional lines I had omitted to save time. I encourage you to read this whole message, as I and many others felt frustrated last night, 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 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 – unbiased 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. Below is the text from my statement last night.

Alex Kotch
January 10, 2012
Durham, NC


I am here tonight to talk about the SERT unit deployed on the Yates building on November 13. But I’m also here tonight to talk about a greater trend, across this country, of increased militarization of the police post-9/11, of police brutality, of excessive show, and sometimes use, of force. I am here tonight because I grew up in this town. And when strolling down Franklin Street, I felt safe. But Chapel Hill is not that town I naively thought it was when I was younger. I’m here tonight because Chapel Hill is a town that deploys 21 police officers in riot gear, armed with assault rifles and extra clips, to remove a handful of peaceful squatters from a building that had been abandoned for ten years. It’s a town that, upon widespread criticism, appoints its own manager to conduct an internal review, relying entirely on police and government officials to take responsibility for their own actions. And now, after the Manager’s predictably positive review of these events, it’s a town that leaves itself open to more inappropriate SWAT raids, and who knows what else.

In the last year, I’ve followed the militarization of the police. I’ve read about a 12-ton armored tank rolled out in Tampa, Florida. I’ve read about military drone planes used to apprehend cattle thieves in North Dakota. On YouTube, I’ve watched an officer hurl a tear gas canister into a crowd of Occupy Oakland protesters, fracturing the skull and swelling the brain of an Iraq war veteran. I’ve watched officers bludgeon students and professors at UC Berkeley. Most chilling was the video of Officer John Pike, calmly spraying liters of blinding pepper spray into the faces of student protesters, sitting peacefully on the ground at UC Davis. Even an 84-year-old woman was pepper sprayed in Seattle. This is all part of a national trend of excessive use of force, and intimidation to preclude future protests.

Police Chief Blue and Manager Stancil applaud the forces for not injuring or killing anyone. But what masquerades as self-praise to deflect criticism is actually a huge sigh of relief. What if one of the squatters had reached for a cell phone from a front pocket? What if someone had fought back? Would one of those many assault rifles have been fired? Just the other day, police shot and killed a 15-year-old 8th grader in Texas, who carried an air pistol. Shouldn’t all this military training instruct officers to subdue a kid without killing him? In Britain, cops aren’t allowed to carry guns. Here, in a small college town, we deploy SWAT teams.

In light of the positive review, Chief Blue said on WCHL that if he could go back in time, he would have made the same call again. Stancil’s internal review has encouraged more of these same drastic paramilitary tactics. In looking forward, Blue said he doesn’t know if the recently formed Community Police Advisory Board will change the way the police make decisions. At the request of the Manager, this committee will be purely advisory in nature. Committee chairman Ron Bogle said in last month’s CPAC meeting that they don’t possess the professional expertise or the resources to conduct a thorough, investigative review. Ms. Bell, you said in the November 21 council meeting that the CPAC would be accomplishing the same goal as an independent, investigative task force; as you can see, this is not at all the case. I fully support the CPAC; however, Council, it is no substitute for an external review, and it won’t regain for you political credibility, or the trust of your citizens.

At the Yates building, in addition to seven squatters, police arrested a 63-year-old woman, a bystander who never entered the building. Two credentialed journalists were detained, and prevented from doing their jobs. Is this an operation that the town wants to condone?

When I was growing up, I was taught that admitting one’s mistakes allows one to learn from them, and establish trust. Councilmembers, this is a chance for the government and the law enforcement to regain the trust of its citizens, not to lose even more of it. This is a chance for Chapel Hill to be an example to the whole country, to recognize the militarization of the police, and the rampant, dangerous misuse of force that’s only becoming more and more frequent. Would you want your children to be met with assault rifles, to be pushed to the ground and handcuffed, if they, unarmed, had committed a misdemeanor, and were preparing for the morning teach-in, or the afternoon yoga class, or the evening film screening at their new occupation of a long-abandoned building? The right thing is an independent investigation of what happened, not an internal review led by the very people whose decisions are under question. Do the right thing, for your constituents. What has become a growing bruise on the town could turn into something positive for the whole nation, if you let it.

Affordable Homes, Indian Food, and All That Jazz…

This Friday, September 9th, the Community Home Trust will rock the new Greenbridge building with cool jazz by mahaloJazz, Indian food by Vimala’s Curryblossom Cafe, wine by Milltown, and interesting conversation by current and former mayors and council members, community volunteers, and, hopefully, you!

The Community Home Trust’s mission is to sell and preserve affordable homes for low and moderate income families who live or work in Orange County. The Trust’s mission is particularly important in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, where the average price of a home puts it out of reach for many people who work in our community every day. The average home in Chapel Hill-Carrboro costs around $300,000, whereas the average Trust home sells for about $100,00. 
The Home Trust enables those who serve our community to live in our community. The Trust’s homeowners teach our children, take care of our sick, police our roads, conduct lifesaving research, serve our vulnerable populations, drive our buses, and volunteer in our towns.
The Trust currently has 194 permanently affordable homes. The homes are “permanently affordable” because when a homeowner decides to move out of the home, it goes back into the trust and then is resold at an affordable price.
Yet 194 seems like a number that can, and should, be increased. That’s where you come in. Join the Community Trust this Friday for a little jazz, food, wine, and interesting conversation and help grow the number of Trust homes. Tickets are only $40 each.
This is truly a community event. The honorary co-chairs include Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt, as well as former mayors Rosemary Waldorf, Kenneth Broun, Jonathan Howes, Joseph Nassif, Howard Lee, and Sandy McClamroch.  Former mayor Kevin Foy will be presented with the Cornerstone Award for his dedication to affordable housing. 

So get your ears ready to hear some Cole Porter, your tastebuds ready for some spicy curry and red wine, and your brain ready for an evening of great conversation.