Civil RightsCommunity

A nation divided, a local protest united

Protesters occupied streets in downtown Asheville.
Sunday (May 31) in Asheville there were protests. A commonplace occurrence was it not for the slew of characters congregating at Vance’s Monument in the heart of downtown. Charged by the escalating recent events chronicling the abuse of police power, Asheville citizens and those from outside the area united.

By Anthony Abraira

Asheville – It is not uncommon for demonstrations to draw neat dividing partisan lines. You are less likely to encounter conservative or organized religious folks at a pro-choice rally just as you will not find too many staunch liberals defending the rights of the unborn. Normally you could say the same for movements like Black Lives Matter or those who were outraged by San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision to take a knee during the National Anthem throughout the 2019 NFL Season. Again, you would normally see political lines indicating where the political support was coming from.

Citizens from all walks of cultural, racial, and socioeconomic divides found common ground to protest the outrage over the death of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.

At the center of the protest was a baby stroller with a young black boy looking engaged at a sight most adults don’t usually encounter. Colors and creeds denouncing police brutality, chanting, screaming and calls for change. The young child didn’t know it but he was wheeled out as a symbolic sacrificial lamb bearing the poignant message, “Please stop killing us.” The innocence of his gaze looking at traffic from Patton veering north and south on Broadway contrasted starkly with angry chants repeating, “Silence is Violence” and “No Racist Police.”

Protestor Lisa Cerniglia was engaging everyone with cameras to take a picture of the baby in the stroller saying, “there’s your story. That’s what needs to be seen.” Holding a sign reading, “I’m white, and I am sick of racism,” she was one of the most vocal. Not just joining into the chants but also directing attention to passerby commuters. It wasn’t easy to walk passed her.

Addressing the touted systemic racism within the country, the conversation veered towards systemic revamps necessary for our police forces. “We have a president that is incapable of showing compassion.” Racking focus from the top to our local community, she suggested implementing Bill Clinton’s controversial Three Strike Law on enforcement’s performance. “If they [officers] have three complaints, bounce them off the force. Things like this make a difference. This guy [Derek Chauvin] had a history and we are still trying to figure out why the other three officers haven’t been arrested.”

Despite the anger, pulling some of these protestors aside showed how normal red and blue state lines started to blend as both camps found themselves decrying the need for a change neither political party was willing to acknowledge. The political colors mixed to make a purple hue.

Amongst the crowd was a young slender man. His name was Phillip Holshouser. Wielding the Gadsden flag with its iconic timber rattlesnake and the “Don’t Tread on Me” slogan, he and his wife were standouts. At first, it appeared this outlier was bravely representing some contesting counterpoint to the protest but soon discovered he was a South Charlotte native. Growing up in a rich area, Phillip admitted that he never encountered many African-Americans but knew just a couple short miles away were the troubled neighborhoods, “but I never saw them.”

He voted for Trump in 2016 and has found the last couple of years to be a rather disillusioning experience. “He pandered to a lot of rednecks, like myself with tax cuts and whatever else.” After witnessing the Unite the Right rally at Charlottesville in 2017, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back he said. Still immersed in his Southern culture, he sees the need for reevaluating how our communities vet our police.

“Anyone in the judicial system; lawyer, judge or police, should spend at least one month in prison. So they know how bad it is when people actually get sent there for victimless crimes,” Phillip asserts. In addition to that, he also found social media as a potential tool for weeding out the bad apples before they became officers in the first place. “They should go over their social media history and make sure they weren’t [a] far-right crazy person. They need a more in-depth psychological exam that examines not only their thinking but their political beliefs and that they should remain
politically neutral.”

Neutrality was not to be the theme of that Sunday afternoon protest that culminated with over a thousand marching down I-240. Crossing the bridge into downtown Asheville police made way, closing down the traffic in Patton. Protestors permitted, almost at times antagonizing officers with chants saying, “Don’t shoot.”

Asheville, a known progressive city, yet Sunday its citizenry and residents from other states stomped the streets with the likes of all political walks of life. The theme was that there was unity on the behalf of those lost to the irresponsible, incompetent, and dangerous methods of a small but significant fraction of the nation’s police forces.

Editor’s note: While Asheville Sunday’s protest was peaceful, later local protests turned violent. Monday George Floyd’s brother has denounced all violence associated with protest nationwide. News 13 spoke with Delores Venable with Asheville Black Lives Matter Tuesday morning and she reaffirmed the group’s goal of peaceful protests and denounced the violence as coming from “outside agitators…pushing their own agenda.”

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