Students, Residents Protest Army Recruitment Office; Three Arrested

About 30 protesters, including UNC students and area residents, turned out Friday before a scheduled ceremonial opening of an Army recruitment station in Chapel Hill. Three people were arrested.

The protesters identified themselves as members of Students for a Democratic Society, The Raging Grannies and others, according to a news report in The News & Observer.

The N&O reported that Barry and Janie Freeman were charged with trespassing after refusing a request to put down their signs, which read “Hands Off My Grandchildren.”

It was the second time in a month that the recruiting station had drawn protests. On the mid-November day that the station was scheduled to open on Franklin Street, a group of students and area residents greeted the new military presence in their community with a protest march. Led by members of the UNC chapter of Students for a Democratic Society, about 40 protesters gathered on McCorkle Place and marched for 45 minutes to the Army Career Center at 1502 E. Franklin St. They carried signs and banners with slogans such as “Army Recruiters Out” and “Stopping Fascism Starts at Home.”

The marchers in November were met at the center by a group of about 10 veterans. As protesters chanted mantras – “Out of Iraq, out of our schools” and “hey hey, ho ho, this recruiting station has got to go” – some veterans countered with shouts of “get a haircut” and “now go get mommy to change your diapers.” A few of the veterans snapped photos of the protesters with disposable cameras.

About 10 Chapel Hill police officers were on hand in November, but the encounter did not escalate beyond verbal sparring on both sides.

Peter Gilbert, a UNC law student and member of Fight Imperialism Stand Together (FIST) was one of four protesters who spoke at the November gathering. He said the protesters were there to “give courage” to young men and women who believe they cannot find a job or go to college without military service.

“I think it’s important to give the youth in this community the information and the courage that they need to make their own decisions and not be intimidated by the apparent authority of the military or the recruiters,” Gilbert said after the protest.

He said Army recruiters are given more access to high schools than are representatives of other professions, leading to a lack of information about career options available to students.

Four protesters in November made prepared speeches, in which they criticized the amount of funding Congress has given to military recruitment and what some of them referred to as targeting minorities for service and behavior that encouraged sexual violence against women. One called the recruitment center’s opening a “military invasion of our community.”

Protesters disbanded after about 25 minutes of speeches and chants. One SDS representative told the crowd the demonstration was “just the first volley” and that the group would continue working against the recruitment center.

Vietnam War veteran Jesse Torres called the protest “typical of Chapel Hill” and said the students’ message was nothing new.

“They’ve been swayed by probably liberal professors; they have little knowledge of what’s really going on in the world,” he said. “To them, everything is so crystal clear – but you know, they’re just too immature at this point. But what they had to say was really nothing. It’s what youth says at every war and every anti-establishment gathering.”

Torres, who lives in Hillsborough, said he learned about the protest from an e-mail message and “called as many veterans as I could” to come to Chapel Hill.

“My objective was not really to protest the protesters, but to stand between them and the recruiter’s office,” he said. “Because these guys, they have jobs, and they shouldn’t be subjected to this kind of crap.”

Both the protest and the veterans’ counter-demonstration were more symbolic than disruptive, as the Army Career Center did not open as scheduled. Desks remained stacked in the middle of the floor inside and painting supplies littered the entryway.

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