Marikay Abuzuaiter, Part 2: the GPD, Surveillance, Organic Relationships, and MoreSep 17th, 2013 | By Rae Alton | Category: Feature
Ever since publishing my interview with Marikay Abuzuaiter, a Greensboro City Council at-large incumbent, I’ve received numerous comments and questions, not about the content itself but what it was lacking. Seven months ago, YES! Weekly published an article by Eric Ginsberg, a journalist I hold in the highest esteem, claiming that Mrs. Abuzuaiter is a confidential informant to the Greensboro Police Department. The article, an unblinking and potent mix of email fragments and reactions, paints a picture of duplicity and double-crossing.
To be honest, I didn’t originally see much of a case for scandal nor did I expect to intercept any new information from Marikay by wading into the subject, an already-thin sheet made threadbare by others from the media and blogging communities. Also, there were countless other significant issues to talk about, such as the youth curfew and poverty. However, after getting called out by YES! Weekly and receiving random insults from strangers – and for the sake of comprehensiveness – Marikay and I met up to discuss her relationship with the GPD at great length.
She arrived with both arms full of file folders and notebooks and, before we dove into them, I summarized the situation, part of which mentions speculation about email forgery or a compromised laptop.
She stops me right there. “Those were never my words. I’ve had many relationships with many police officers and many groups, which have been transparent. Every (communication) had been posted within an hour, for any kind of meeting I’ve been in. I’ve corresponded with many police officers over the years.”
“Have I ever corresponded with the police? Yes. Have I sent emails to the police? Yes. Primarily when I’ve been asked to. If there was a safety issue, I would do it again. I’ve been involved in the community for years. If you want to call me a citizen source of information, I can live with that, I don’t mind that.”
Marikay goes on to describe how, as a business owner, property owner, and as someone active in bettering her local community for over 30 to 40 years, her relationships with not only the GPD but the community and its leaders have been fostered organically.
“I’ve had so many good relationships with the police over the years. I’ve watched some of them grow up.”
She describes one of the sons of a family friend who grew up to join the force. With her hands indicating a 5 or 6 year old’s height, she exclaims, “I knew him when he was only this tall!”
Her experiences have been good ones; although, as political activism goes, there have been incidents in which communication with law enforcement may have prevented violent escalation.
“We were having a peace vigil on Wendover when a van pulls up – a maroon van – and people started piling out, yelling obscenities and slurs at us. Prior to the van incident, we were having a candlelight vigil at the corner of Friendly and Guilford College Road and people were throwing beer bottles right at us.”
The rest of the vigil, perhaps after calling the GPD, Marikay describes as smooth sailing.
“We lined Friendly Avenue on a freezing cold night with candles. Candles lit for what felt like a mile. It was gorgeous. I still get chill bumps thinking about it. It went on for several hours. A big portion of the attendees were from Guilford College. It was marvelous.”
“I’m usually the one that other organizers will go to and say “make sure we have police protection” to. I would always be the one to make the phone call, write the email, and upon the request of the community. For Occupy Greensboro, I was a parade marshal and I communicated with the police.”
As an editorial side-note and in the spirit of full disclosure, both Marikay and I were involved with Occupy Greensboro. This leads us to discuss Occupy Greensboro’s open lines of communication with the city and GPD. By engaging with the GPD and the local government, several representatives of Occupy Greensboro were able to organize an encampment, marches, and rallies without arrests or violence. Other occupations in North Carolina weren’t as successful in this regard, such as Occupy Chapel Hill, whose encampment was traumatically raided by a SWAT team.
Perhaps reaching out to the GPD independently of Occupy Greensboro, rather than working with the capable and unified group is what ruffled feathers, but does that mean she worked against Occupy Greensboro? Is that enough evidence to label her a double agent? Personally, I find that to be not only harsh, but a forced perspective. After all, the Abuzuaiters are familiar with the intrusiveness of surveillance on a personal level.
“At most major events, you’ll see surveillance. I don’t want a police state. I don’t want that. You know,” she starts as she references her husband and sons’ Palestinian heritage, “For the Middle Eastern community, there has been surveillance. Since 2001. It’s just the way it is. The people around me – there’s no reason to be under surveillance.”
“Do you feel you could have handled the situation differently?” I ask.
“No, I don’t believe that I’ve done anything wrong. And there’s nothing I regret or am embarrassed about. I disagree with the narratives that have been written. You will never find an actual quote saying that I haven’t built relationships with the police. I’m a graduate of the Greensboro Police Citizens’ Academy, too. I will defend anybody’s right to protest, to speak, to gather in a peaceful manner. And I will continue to do that.”
“The purpose of the Greensboro Police Citizens’ Academy is to increase awareness and community watch groups. I love all the groups I’m in and I’m not going to betray the people that I have been to rallies and programs and vigils with. I haven’t betrayed anyone. And I’ll tell you what I was advised to do. After the article (in YES! Weekly) came out, I was given advice by a local, well-respected reverend. He said, “What you need to do is go to the communities you have been part of and explain to them what you’ve just showed me.” And I did. The accusation that I haven’t sat down with nor addressed citizens concerns is wrong, it’s inappropriate to say, and I stand by my decision that I haven’t done anything wrong nor betrayed anyone.”
She pulls a pale purple folder from the pile, containing organizational records from a candlelight vigil. Among the pages is a contact sheet of the people involved, to which she says “I still have information on everyone who attended the meetings and I was never asked to give those to the police. These are my personal files. There would be no need for anyone to have them.”
She pulls out another folder. This one, for a 2008 community organization for at-risk youth, especially in Eastern Greensboro, called LYFE, which stands for Love, Youth, Faith, Empowerment. She pulls out photos taken at the event.
“This is from a huge rally we had with the kids across from Windsor Recreation Center. We ran contests, we presented before city council, and the police were involved in helping the young teenagers stay on the right track so they wouldn’t end up as another statistic. We worked closely with several officers and it was heartwarming because the kids got so involved. There were probably 80 kids there that day.”
Some of the contents of her LYFE file folder are drawings from children, each one an entry for LYFE’s logo contest. She smiles as she flips through dozens and dozens of colorful drawings in crayon, marker, and colored pencil and sighs, “this is what it’s all about.”
“I’m trying to represent those who elected me and to focus on the issues and dilemmas we have in this city. I believe I have done a good job working for the citizens of Greensboro as an elected official and I will continue to do that. To help make Greensboro an exemplary city. I don’t believe this focus on me is helping us address the challenges we are all currently facing in greensboro.”