In early November, Asheville police arrested Helen Roberts for passing out Occupy Asheville fliers, claiming she was violating a city ordinance. But the charges against Roberts were quickly dropped, and City Attorney Bob Oast explained that the ordinance deals only with commercial activity — not handing out political fliers in public spaces.
“It shall be unlawful for any person to advertise by the distribution of samples or printed matter within the city, except as provided in the annual license and privilege-tax ordinance,” the law states.
The APD issued a warrant for Roberts' arrest after reviewing video surveillance from a Nov. 2 Occupy Asheville march. Asked about the case, APD Lt. Wally Welch said via email, "The APD command staff and City Legal conferred with Buncombe County District Attorney Ron Moore [about] her charges, and based on his interpretation of the city ordinance, the decision was made to dismiss the charges against her."
Seeking clarification, Xpress turned to Oast.
"The annual license and privilege-tax ordinance was adopted a number of years ago,” he explained. “What that is really directed at is the distribution of product samples. Every person, firm or corporation distributing samples, circulars, handbills or other printed matter from house to house or person to person anywhere within the corporate limits of the city of Asheville will have to pay a license tax. So it's really directed at commercial activity," concluded Oast.
In cases such as Lovell v. City of Griffin and Hague v. CIO, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld broad protections for citizens and groups distributing leaflets on sidewalks or other public places.
— David Forbes
Mike Fryar announces bid for Buncombe County Board of Commissioners
Longtime conservative activist Mike Fryar plans to run for the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners in 2012 and is in the process of establishing a campaign committee, he said Nov. 29.
Fryar has been considering a run for several months, raising his public profile by repeatedly criticizing current board members during their meetings and in the media. Earlier this year, he pointed out that the Buncombe commissioners were among the highest-paid in the state when technology and travel stipends were factored in. Media outlets across the region echoed his concern, and in February, the commissioners significantly cut their own pay.
But Fryar, a retired engine builder and auto dealer, thinks they’re still paid too much. And if elected, he says, cutting government spending and opposing any tax increases would be his top priorities. "They just dump money wherever they want to dump it," he charges. "The way this group's doing it, once the houses devalue, they're going to try to go up on taxes. That's something I'm totally against."
A registered Republican, Fryar has also been an outspoken critic of the board's decision to put a quarter-cent sales-tax increase on the ballot. The commissioners, all of whom are Democrats, passed a resolution pledging to use the revenue to fund capital improvements at A-B Tech, and in a Nov. 8 referendum, county residents approved the increase by a razor-thin margin.
Fryar, however, says it wasn’t fair to hold the referendum in a year when there were no countywide races on the ballot. And during the board’s Nov. 15 meeting, he urged the commissioners to hold another vote on the measure next year before levying the tax, because the vote was so close. (Board Chair David Gantt says they plan to levy the tax as soon as possible.)
Meanwhile, under the district-elections system state legislators decreed for Buncombe County earlier this year, the Fairview resident will square off against incumbents K. Ray Bailey and Carol Peterson in the 115th District, which will have two seats on the board. The district includes slightly more registered Democrats than Republicans.
Fryar thinks his chances of success depend on his fundraising ability. "If I can raise $16,000 to $18,000 by February, I'm definitely in," he opines. "If it turns into $4,000, then I can't compete with K. Ray or Peterson, because they've got the money."
Fryar ran unsuccessfully for the Board of Commissioners in 2008 under the former at-large election system. The current commissioners have said the new system was created against their will to increase Republican candidates’ chances by dividing the county into more conservative districts.
— Jake Frankel
Conference spotlights sex-worker abuse
More than 50 health-and-safety advocates gathered Dec. 1 at The Haywood Street Congregation in Asheville to talk about sexual violence, abuse and marginalization. One of them, Jill Brenneman, told her own heartbreaking story of being a sex slave and a victim of intense abuse.
After running away from home at age 14, Brenneman was brutally kidnapped, beaten and raped, then forced into a life of prostitution by her captors. "My life was so controlled that they even watched when I peed," she recounted. "I wasn't even allowed to speak without permission."
After several years, Brenneman managed to escape and went on to form Sex Workers Without Borders, which aims to raise public awareness of sex workers' human rights. Prostitution's illegality and the stigma associated with it created the underlying conditions that allowed her captors to torture her, she told the group.
"Criminalization empowered this," asserted Brenneman. "I couldn't escape; where was I supposed to go?" Attempts to talk to authorities about what happened to her, she continued, merely resulted in them questioning her and trying to get her to confess to having engaged in illegal activity herself.
And after years of battling post-traumatic stress disorder, Brenneman again turned to prostitution last year, she said — only this time it was voluntary, to help cover her medical bills after three surgeries related to blood clots.
Once again, however, she found herself the victim of extreme violence at the hands of some of her clients — including, she maintains, a police officer.
"He could get away with it because it's illegal. Who am I going to tell?" said Brenneman. "We don't have access to law enforcement. … We don't talk to them, because we're afraid of being arrested. … We're denied our human rights because of what we do. We're denied our safety."
She added: "When people say it's illegal for our own benefit, I say, 'Yeah, it worked out great for me.'"
Representatives of Our VOICE, an Asheville nonprofit, said they're working to prevent the kind of conditions that led to the abuse Brenneman suffered. As part of its Asheville Sex Worker Outreach Project, which seeks to mediate between sex workers and law enforcement, the group launched "Kelly's Line," an anonymous reporting program, last month.
Local sex workers can call the toll-free number 1-855-4KELLYS (1-855-453-5597) to report sexual and physical assault without revealing their identity, Case Manager Lauren Hickman explained. Our VOICE records the information and passes it on to local law enforcement, maintaining the caller’s anonymity. The reports will also be compiled on a “Bad Date Sheet” that will be distributed to sex workers in printed form, to help them avoid such attacks.
But the issues involved are complex, noted organizer Sarah Danforth, and the project’s success cannot be assumed. "All we can do is try and see what happens," she said, adding that they're working hard to gain the trust of sex workers, the Asheville Police Department and the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office.
To date, said Danforth, no one has called the special phone line. "We're still in the process of seeing what the needs are — and what we can do to help.”
— Jake Frankel