Asheville Police Department Interim Chief Wade Wood has released a statement saying that his department takes Facebook comments made by Lynn Fraser, a forensic technician employed by the APD, “very seriously.” Fraser called Occupy Asheville protesters “dirtasses” and said they needed “a hug … around the neck… with a rope.” Melissa Williams, the city’s public information and social media specialist, who commented on Fraser’s status, has offered her apologies.
“The Facebook comments posted on the Mountain Xpress website have been brought to the city’s and my attention,” Wood’s statement reads. “We take this situation very seriously and we are looking into the matter. … The police department and I believe all people should be treated with respect and we hope the comments of an individual would not impede the department’s ability to continue the respectful and non-confrontational partnership the city has had with Occupy Asheville participants,” Wood continues. “We will continue to work with this and other groups to enable their right to legal expressions of free speech.”
Fraser’s comments, in a public Facebook post, called the protesters “dirtasses” and said they shouldn’t complain about being filmed by police. Williams weighed in with “‘dirtasses.’ LMAO” and later posted a follow-up comment, saying, “I know you feel at the end of your rope, but it’s all going to be OK. Perspective, prayer … all that helps. Enjoy your day off and count your many blessings, Lynn!”
Williams has released a statement offering her apologies.
“My intent wasn’t to offend anyone and I apologize,” she writes. “I was attempting to highlight something I thought was exaggerated and silly. However, in my role with the city I realize it is inappropriate to joke about sensitive issues. I just wanted her to put her stress into perspective and see that we are actually blessed—- and that we have more to be thankful for than we tend to recognize when times are difficult.”
Williams, a friend of Fraser’s, tells Xpress that she wasn’t meaning to endorse Fraser’s “dirtasses” comment.
“I put the word in quotes because it was a silly word, a word I’d never heard, I thought it was exaggerated, kind of an exaggerated perspective on what’s been going on,” Williams said. “I was more laughing at the word and hoped it highlighted the silliness of that word and her use. I wanted her to take a moment and put everything in perspective and not let her stress define her reaction.”
Fraser has since removed all public statuses from her Facebook page. However, blogger Jason Bugg uncovered a post from yesterday where Fraser also designates Occupy Asheville as a group that “just need a hug … around the neck… with a rope.”
Fraser was among APD personnel filming Occupy Asheville protesters during a joint march with the Southeast Student Renewable Energy Conference yesterday. Legally, police can film public actions, just as citizens can record police activities.
A statement from Occupy Asheville asserts that Fraser’s remarks “show an insular culture among law enforcement that leads to stereotyping, profiling, abuse and false arrest of those in our community committed to reimagining our social, economic, and political structures. We believe that the heavy handed tactics of the APD, specifically recording our public meetings, singling out participants for arrest after the fact, and disruption reveal the actual attitude of authorities towards constitutionally protected assembly, speech and community organizing.”
To date, Asheville police have not deployed forceful methods against Occupy protesters, as has been done in Oakland, Calif. After early civil disobedience actions at the Merrill-Lynch building and Pack Square Park, protesters praised the conduct of the APD.
However, Occupy Asheville has condemned more recent APD actions, including the arrest of 24 during a Nov. 2 protest at the Vance Monument. Over the weekend, the APD arrested seven Occupy Asheville participants, alleging they’d broken the law during the Nov. 2 march, and claimed police would continue to review videotape of the protests, with the possibility of more arrests to come.