Chapel Hill protester charged

April 14, 2008 4:02:13 PM PDT
A protest outside a Burger King has a woman in legal hot water.

Tamara Tal, a Chapel Hill grad student got arrested in November after a demonstration supporting farm workers who pick tomatoes - but her supporters say the ordinance police used to charge her is unconstitutional.

She told Eyewitness News that unlike another protest that same day in Durham, "It was very chaotic, and it was very unclear what to do. Most of us felt unsafe, and forcibly harassed by the cops."

Her lawyer Al McSurely gave us a memo written by Chapel Hill police chief Brian Curran to the town manager. It says police arrested Tal after some protesters would not leave the restaurant's property.

"There were several people who were being very loud, and saying the cops didn't have the right to ask for an ID." said Tal. I" wasn't. I wasn't talking to them. I was just trying to get people together, to get them to leave together."

Now she's charged with failing to disperse. Her reaction, outside the courtroom: "The charges should be dropped. I'm innocent!"

The police chief's memo says "In hindsight, had officers begun to clear away the restaurant, the protesters probably would have left without incident and the arrest would not then be necessary."

Chief Curran verified the memo as one that he wrote. But he told me that because the case is under litigation, he can't comment on the contents of the memo, or the case.

"I think he made it very clear that he, at least, believes the First Amendment is alive and well in Chapel Hill," said McSurely. "I'm not sure that's filtered down to all his officers, though."

The judge turned down MsSurely's request to dismiss the charge. Tal's lawyer says that ordinance, written years ago, was designed to prevent African-Americans and other minorities from gathering in groups or panhandling along the Franklin Street. He and Tal's supporters consider that law unfair and unjust.

"Arguing that it was unconstitutional on its face didn't pass," said Tal after her day in court. "But I think that it was important to take that stand."


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