Amid increasing friction with the city, Occupy Asheville protesters have continued to register their dissatisfaction with “corporate dominance and government corruption,” as one of their official statements put it. After City Council denied the demonstrators' request for a permanent camping spot in Pack Square Park Oct. 25, about 60 people held an assembly on the City Hall steps, chanting slogans. And when the park's 10 p.m. curfew kicked in, eight of them refused to leave.
Police arrested Joseph Lee Wallen, Robert Ryan Halas, Justin Eugene Jones, Matthew Tyler Burd, Terry James Whittey, Victoriano Alejandro Ochoa, Robert William Logsdon and Kayvon Kazemini for second-degree trespassing.
"They offered that we could walk to the jailhouse, but that would have been complying," Kazemini explained later. “We know there's an ordinance; we believe the Constitution supersedes that."
The encampment the protesters are requesting, he asserts, is not an event (such as a festival) but an expression of the people's constitutional right to assemble, and thus not subject to the city’s rules. "We just wanted one curfew in one part of one park lifted.”
"Our friend [Burd] decided he wasn't going to leave the park, so we decided we weren't going to leave either," Jones reveals. "We did this in protest that City Council didn't even entertain the idea of waiving the curfew in a portion of one city park that could give people a safe place to congregate or see what everything's about."
"The right to assemble is guaranteed through the Constitution but apparently not through City Council," Wallen observes.
"If you can't appeal to City Council, who do you appeal to?" Kazemini wonders. "The name Occupy Asheville might confuse people, but this is for all the people."
Organizers, he reports, have been meeting with Asheville Downtown Association staff in an effort to reach out to downtown stakeholders. "We certainly need the oversight of the Asheville community," notes Kazemini.
All four participants, however, say the APD's treatment of the protesters was courteous.
"They're clearly nicer than your average cop," says Logsdon, though he also points out that it would be a different situation if Occupy Asheville's numbers increased. "It took four hours to book eight people; they wouldn't want to mess with 100."
After City Council’s decision, which also rescinded the permission to temporarily camp under the Lexington Avenue overpass, the demonstrators packed up and left. Many had criticized the site, citing air-quality concerns and some problems with homeless people. A later statement from Occupy Asheville called the Lexington site a “debacle,” charging that by choosing that spot, the city had forced the protesters to become a social-service organization.
Since then, a small Occupy Asheville contingent has been camping on the sidewalk alongside the Federal Building.
On Nov. 2, about 100 protesters marched in solidarity with Occupy Oakland's general strike the same day.
Starting at the former Lexington Avenue campsite, the group marched up the hill to College Street and then turned west, ignoring instructions from police to stay on the sidewalk. The marchers continued to the Federal Building, trailed by a dozen police vehicles with sirens running. Other officers blocked off traffic on side streets. At the Federal Building, the march reversed course and headed for the Vance Monument.
There, the marchers chanted a variety of slogans and carried signs displaying slogans such as “Stop police brutality” and “Occupy everything.” When it appeared that they were staying put, the police left the scene.
About 60 protesters remained at the monument in violation of the curfew, and for a while, the police seemed to leave them alone. By 10:49 p.m., however, about 10 APD officers had arrived and asked the protesters to move. When they refused, 24 were arrested.
“As evidenced by protesters and bystanders alike, officers did a tremendous job of carrying out their job tasks with professionalism in a rather trying and potentially volatile situation,” an APD media announcement stated. “Each of the arrestees was charged with second-degree trespass, as well as resist, delay and obstruct, for their failure to comply after repeated requests to leave.”
Occupy Asheville's own announcement, however, cited a number of states where curfews on such demonstrators have been ruled illegal.
“In an unnecessary and outrageous act of penalizing dissent,” the announcement continued, “the Asheville police added a 'resisting arrest' charge to each of the arrestees because they nonviolently spoke out.” In saying “We do not consent to this arrest,” the statement explained, the protesters were simply indicating that “they did not agree with having their First Amendment rights violated by arrest. There was no actual physical resistance to the arrests, and people willingly moved to the cruisers for transport to the jail.”
Some members of Occupy Asheville announced on Facebook that they’re considering suing the city over the arrest.
— David Forbes can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 137, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.