Manchester has recently been the site of some major police state tactics including lockdowns and checkpoints. Tonight beginning at 6:00pm, Manchester-area activists and Cop Blockers will be holding a press conference at 6:30pm, then various members of the West Manchester community will be testifying to the city council about their experience in the recent police state activity. Here’s the full event announcement from Foundation for NH Independence president Carla Gericke:
Is the Manchester Police Department on the Warpath?
Concerned Manchester residents will gather at City Hall Plaza on Elm Street at 6PM on Tuesday, June 7th, 2016, to discuss the increasing use of military-style occupation tactics and deployment of military-grade equipment on the streets of Manchester, NH.
MPD Police Chief Nick Willard says, “crime is down 20 percent in Manchester,” yet in the past 3 weeks:
- 8 Manchester schools have been placed under lockdown;
- MPD has deployed its SWAT team and armored BEARCAT at least twice;
- One home was tear-gassed;
- At least 3 helicopters clamored over the city for hours after an entire neighborhood of 30,000 people was placed on lockdown with a shelter-in-place order for more than 5 hours after the suspect had been apprehended.
In Manchester, a city with a population of 110,000 that often ranks highly in affordability and livability, the past few weeks have seemed like a war zone.
Starting on Friday, May 13th, an entire neighborhood on the west side of Manchester (pop. 30,000) was placed under lockdown with a shelter-in-place order when two officers suffered non-life-threatening injuries after being shot during a manhunt.
The lockdown started and continued for more than 5 hours after the suspect had been apprehended. The neighborhood “felt like a city under siege.” Several schools were closed for the whole day, and some streets were cordoned off until 3PM, with people unable to access their cars and thus unable to go to work. Media reports said heavily armed law enforcement officials with automatic weapons and police dogs patrolled the streets and searched cars, trash cans, and yards as helicopters circled overhead. According to one eyewitness account, neighborhood residents were forced to walk backwards with their hands up while officers trained rifles with their fingers on the triggers on them.
“My girlfriend and I find ourselves questioning our safety when, two days after moving into this city, our new neighborhood found itself threatened by a menace. That menace was the Manchester Police Department,” said West Side resident Alex Avery in the Union Leader. “For many hours, innocent neighbors of ours found themselves barred from leaving or entering their homes and having guns pointed at their heads by police. We now know that this went on for hours beyond the point that their suspect had been caught. For what reason would they continue this harassing, threatening behavior toward us?”
Risa Evans, associate professor at the University of New Hampshire School of Law and a former public defender, said in the Concord Monitor: “According to a local news report, police explained afterward that the continued lockdown was ‘critical to gathering evidence to preserve the integrity of their investigation.’ This explanation suggests that the primary purpose for continuing the lockdown after the suspect was caught was not to protect residents, but rather to gather evidence for a criminal prosecution. If so, it’s time for a robust discussion about whether in the future the lockdown of entire neighborhoods should be permitted… The lockdown in Manchester could set a precedent for the rest of New Hampshire, and questions about our willingness to trade liberty for security are more pressing than ever.”
On Friday, May 20, part of Elm Street, Manchester’s popular downtown strip with bars and restaurants was closed from Bridge to Orange Street and people were taken out of a building one by one to secure the scene after the city’s SWAT team and patrol officers were called to the area. Officers had rifles out and trained at eye-level.
Later the same night, several streets on the West Side were once again cordoned off after a distraught man allegedly shot arrows from an 11th story window. An eyewitness said: “I heard cops all over the place, they were hiding in the area.” Lt. Brian O’Keefe said, “The building was in a shelter in place for a period of time and ultimately… he was arrested.”
“We had Friday the 13th… then Nightmare on Elm Street… now Robin in da Hood,” Riaz Kahan said on social media said about these incidences.
On May 26, both Central High School and the adult learning center at 521 Maple Street were placed on “secured campus mode” after reports of a shooting nearby. It is unclear whether “secured campus mode” is a different category to “lockdown,” or merely a euphemism to divert attention away from the increasing use of lockdowns in New Hampshire.
On June 1, on the east side of the city, a despondent man whose mother had asked for a wellness check was tear-gassed in his home. The police presence at the scene included heavily armed SWAT members with rifles at the ready, uniformed officers, police brass and undercover officers, some of whom were disguised in black hoods and sunglasses, half-dozen marked police cars, three fire engines and an ambulance. Police evacuated nearby buildings and taped off portions of Union and Willow Streets, preventing automobile traffic from approaching a three-road intersection. The man escaped the tear gas by climbing from his apartment window, and was arrested.
On June 2, Manchester School of Technology, Jewett Street School and Southside Elementary School were placed on “secure campus mode” for several hours after a student was spotted in the backseat of a car near the school holding an airsoft rifle. The toy was found in the trunk of a car at the school and a sixteen year old student was arrested. Unspecified charges are pending, police said.
Meanwhile, after public outcry on social media from Manchester business owners and residents, MPD Police Chief Nick Willard announced over Memorial Day weekend that he had cancelled the continued filming of Manchester police for the popular COPS reality TV show, saying, “I guess it was a bigger issue than we anticipated.” Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas said, “I support the chief, and his decision to pull it. It shows his compassion for the community and his responsiveness to their concerns.”
“Because our public servants have shown their willingness to listen to the people they serve, we will be gathering at City Hall this Tuesday to express our dissatisfaction with the recent militarized police actions in Manchester,” said Carla Gericke, a West Side homeowner and activist. “Let’s talk about de-escalation and community policing instead of daily lockdowns and heavily armed law enforcement officers lurking everywhere.”
For years now, concerned New Hampshirites have actively tried to stave off the growing national trend of police militarization, protesting the acquisitions of Lenco BEARCATs funded by federal grants in Keene in 2012, Concord in 2013, and other towns.
“Back in 2013, the City of Concord ignored more than 1,500 petitioners who expressed their disapproval of that BEARCAT acquisition. Folks worried then that it would lead to increased use of militarized police tactics in New Hampshire. We now know these concerns were real,” said Gericke. “I grew up in South Africa under apartheid–a police state–and even there, you did not see daytime curfews being imposed on entire neighborhoods. I moved to America to escape such things… not to see them manifest in my own backyard. Free people must be able to move freely, and liberty should never be sacrificed for ‘security’. It is exactly in times of crisis that you should not give up your constitutional rights and civil liberties.”
In 2013, the ACLU launched a national program called “Towns Don’t Need Tanks: The Militarization of Policing in America.” Said Allie Bohm, ACLU advocacy and policy strategist, “The militarization of local police is a threat to Americans’ right to live without fear of military-style intervention in their daily lives.”
A press conference will take place at 6:30PM on June 7, 2016 at City Hall Plaza on Elm Street, Manchester, NH. West Side residents will testify before the city council from 7-7:30PM. For more information, contact Carla Gericke at: carlagericke at gmail.com.