From correspondent Tammy Grubb
Chanting “Human Rights for Abbey Court,” nearly 100 people marched peacefully Saturday through downtown Carrboro to the condominium complex to protest Thursday’s decision to oust the Human Rights Center.
Abbey Court residents looked out their windows and doors as the protesters marched by to the tune of a tuba, drums and an accordion. Some joined the march, swelling its ranks to more than 150 as the group reached the parking lot outside the HRC’s building.
“This is so overwhelming that you are standing up for human rights,” HRC director Judith Blau told the crowd. “We will do our best to find a house nearby.”
The board of directors of Abbey Court’s homeowners association voted Thursday to give the nonprofit group until March 1 to move out of two units in the Jones Ferry Road complex. The board was concerned about liability and that the HRC runs a commercial or public service in a residential area, management officials said.
The group is looking for a new location in the same neighborhood for its programs, including afterschool tutoring, health services, and language and computer classes. Blau said they want the new site to be a workers’ center, too, where day laborers can wait for work out of the elements, get job training and seek help with employment issues, like wage theft. Blau said the HRC will sell the two units it owns in Abbey Court to help pay for a new home.
A few Abbey Court residents spoke Saturday about the board’s decision, saying it will affect everyone and especially the children. Ricardo Lazaro, 70, said the management wants the HRC to leave, because it supports the mostly Hispanic and Burmese residents. “The people who live here in Abbey Court are hard-working, honest people who every morning head out to work,” Lazaro said. “We are not
criminals. However, that is how the managers have treated us.”
Carrboro police drove by the Town Commons a few times before the March Against Racist Evictions and for Human Rights started and officers stood by, blocking traffic along the route during the march. Police Chief Carolyn Hutchison said she thought the event went well.
Mayor Mark Chilton and Alderman Sammy Slade also attended the march. Chilton prompted a debate earlier Saturday on Facebook with his call Friday for protesters and police “to remain non-violent and for all of us to treat our fellow human beings with dignity.” The email, posted on several Facebook and web pages, also warned protesters that police would respond if Abbey Court management asked them to trespass anyone from the private property.
Some protest supporters said the post showed Chilton was trying to use his position as mayor to control the movement.
Abbey Court management did not respond to the protest.
Alderman Sammy Slade said the protest was a good example of the diversity of support Carrboro has for the community and that he’s “hoping these kinds of things can happen more often.”
“I think we could go a long way toward interacting” with each other, he said. “It’s kind of in line with the whole Occupy Chapel Hill movement … where people from different backgrounds can come together.”