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Asheville’s latest response to protesters

Protestors marching down Patton Avenue. Photograph by Anthony Abraira.

By Leslee Kulba

Asheville – A resolution scheduled for adoption by Asheville City Council June 14 stated that slavery, forced segregation, and destruction of functional minority communities in the name of urban renewal are wrong. Although righting the wrong with anything besides a reset would require Herculean actuarial calisthenics, the city at least makes an attempt and first apologizes for all of the above. It also commits to making amends. This will include “creating generational wealth” and “boosting economic mobility and opportunity.”

Council further called on organizations and institutions in the city that have benefitted from racial inequity to apologize and better address systemic racism and calls upon the state and the federal government to create policies and allocate funding for reparations. To accomplish this, the city will fully staff and put to work its department of equity and inclusion. It will also create a commission tasked with preparing a report. Metrics are to be set for gauging the program’s progress toward, among other things, “increasing minority homeownership and access to other affordable housing; increasing minority business ownership and career opportunities; [growing] equity and generational wealth; closing the gaps in healthcare, education, employment, and pay; [improving] neighborhood safety; and [increasing] fairness within [the criminal justice system].”

At the last two meetings of Asheville City Council, public comment was dominated by seminar callers, some very dramatic, with themes and variations on a script provided by Black AVL Demands. Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer thanked each caller after they praised Asheville Councilman Keith Young for his leadership and called for her resignation as well as that of Asheville Police Chief David Zack.

Hardly a word was said about the rioting and vandalism, although one girl complained about an officer trying to prevent her from marching down the interstate and the city defacing the mural demonstrators gratuitously painted in the street in front of the police department. Justifiably, callers complained about two people seriously injured by police crowd control measures. The solution, according to Asheville Councilman Brian Haynes, would be to take potentially harmful crowd-control tools away from the police department.

Haynes also wanted to prohibit people from carrying guns openly. Asheville City Attorney Brad Branham was prepared for the question and said North Carolina is an open-carry state, so anybody with a license is allowed to carry openly, but he had found two possible exceptions. One was if a person was participating in a demonstration, something that would be difficult to prove in court. The other was a local ordinance banning firearms on all public grounds.

While the protest in question occurred June 21, the city issued a press release July 7 stating it had launched a criminal investigation into events of that night, “specifically focusing on potential violations of NCGS 14-277.2, ‘Weapons at Parades, etc., Prohibited.’”

The release said police observed the people with the guns during the protest but opted not to make a scene in the interest of avoiding further agitation of an already stirred-up crowd. Zachary McFarland, William Turknett, and Joshua Case were all served a criminal summons for carrying while participating in a demonstration, and Case was additionally charged for carrying a firearm in a public park. All three would face misdemeanor charges if found guilty.

The men represented a counter-protest. One person calling the city council claimed Case was a “known member” of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and said one of the armed protesters was aiming his gun at people. The Asheville Police Department only said one of the protesters had “possibly” been a member of the KKK at one time.

The press release said the city was continuing to investigate acts of vandalism that occurred that night, and three days later, another release requested help in locating two persons, Teresa Duckett and Cori Antonio. The city is trying to charge them with felonious inciting of a riot.

Asheville City Manager Debra Campbell was going to oversee an independent investigation of the Asheville Police Department’s actions during the riots. However, the local daily discovered an email dated June 14 stating all seven members of the council had agreed to take on those responsibilities as a body in the name of “community trust.” Actions being questioned include the destruction of a “medic tent” and the use of tear gas and rubber bullets to stop a spontaneous march down the interstate. How the decision was made to call in the National Guard is also under investigation.

According to eyewitnesses, each evening of the protest started peacefully. On the night of June 1, the amicable protests were interrupted first by civilians throwing firecrackers. After the police responded with tear gas, gunshots were heard from at least two sources, damaging windows.

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