A diverse group of citizens, concerned about several recent incidents involving law enforcement and activists, has decided to push for a citizens’ review board on the Asheville Police Department, as well as increased pressure on city, county and state officials to protect civil rights and more of a citizen presence at demonstrations throughout the city.
The group of about 70 people, which held their first meeting Aug. 21 at the West Asheville Public Library, included members of Veterans for Peace and Women in Black (organizations that hold weekly vigils and protests), as well as local-business owners, members of the Libertarian and Green parties, radio personality Virato (who organized the meeting), Indie newspaper publisher Pasckie Pascua and a number of other individuals. City Council candidates Lindsey Simerly and William Meredith also attended.
Becky Johnson, the owner of Eaties Cereal Bar in downtown Asheville, who helped moderate the discussion, said, “We’ve all noticed the heightened presence of police” at protests. There does seem to be a string of behavior here.”
Currently, Asheville has a Citizens/Police Advisory Committee, but it meets four times a year and does not review or investigate specific incidents.
Regarding a police-review board, activist Jason Trebly commented, “The police have said before that they don’t need such a group, but that’s like trusting the fox to watch the hen house.”
The common concern for the group was recent actions by law enforcement that activists perceive as threatening the rights to free speech and protest, including the flag-desecration arrests of Deborah and Mark Kuhn, the arrest of activist Jonas Phillips, who was holding an “Impeach Bush/Cheney” sign above the Haywood Road overpass, and police reaction to a protest at the Bank of America.
The group agreed to press for a citizens’ review board for the Asheville Police Department, something Simerly, Meredith and Rosebud Video owner Leslie Armstrong agreed to take the lead in organizing. The group also agreed that everyone attending would send at least one e-mail to a city, county or state official voicing their concerns, and that they would all work to increase attendance at regular demonstrations already occurring in the city.
Simerly noted that citizens’ review boards have been implemented in other areas of the country, and that she would be using one recently adopted in the twin cities of Champaign and Urbana, Ill,. as a model. Those review boards commonly review specific actions, examine police procedures and policies and issue regular reports.
“This can be done, there are plans, and I can even get the specific wording,” Simerly said.
For Meredith, the issue is that “we need to be secure in our homes and in our choice of what we wish to display and what statements we wish to make. I think it’s time a lot of these divergent groups came together on this.”
Meanwhile, Barnard Carmen, chair of the Buncombe County Libertarian Party, said that members of his party are also planning to wave signs above an overpass.
“We’re planning on having banners up there in support of [Republican presidential candidate] Ron Paul—and they’re going to be large,” Carmen said. “We’ll come out there with a tie-dyed banner and a copy of the law.”
The group has agreed to meet again at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 29, at Eaties Cereal Bar (48 Commerce St.) to make additional plans.