A red-tailed hawk circled high above Asheville City Hall, the bird already basking in the rising sun on Feb. 17. The Occupy Asheville campers, still in the shadow of the mountain, were already stirring. Some were separating things they meant to keep from things they were throwing away. Others peered out of tent flaps at the sunrise. Still others had been up for a while already making preparations for their noon deadline.
Asheville native John Penley is back in town for the last day of Occupy Asheville. A longtime resident of New York City, he feels it is important to be in his home town for this day. “We have been able to bring the issue of making homelessness illegal with this encampment,” Penley says. “Every encampment I have been to has a different vibe … a different focus. I guess it depends on the city they are in.”
Penley relates some of his experiences growing up in Asheville, which he admits was quite a different place then. “I was the captain of the football team the year they intergrated Asheville High. My father was the principal of the black high school on South French Broad Avenue [now Asheville Middle School], and I was one of the few white kids who had black friends then.” As we chat, Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy pulls up to City Hall in her Lincoln Continental. “See what I mean?” asks Penley, “Totally different. Wow.” He tries to chat with the Mayor, but she rushes off.
“I guess she don’t want to talk to me. Oh, well,” says Penley.
A short time later, Asheville Police Department Sgt. Jonathan Brown comes over to say good morning and asks if people are getting ready. “You didn’t bring us doughnuts?” asks Penley, joking.
“No, we eat bagels now — no doughnuts in uniform,” retorts Brown. Just as he turns to leave, another APD sergeant walks up the stairs and right through the campers; he’s carrying a large box of Krispy Kremes. The campers and Brown hoot with laughter and delight at the irony.
With about two hours to go for the deadline to leave the space in front of City Hall, Occupy Asheville — and the APD — manage to keep their sense of humor alive.
Photos by Bill Rhodes
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