Under a city ordinance banning advertisement “by the distribution of samples or printed matter within the city,” the Asheville Police Department arrested Helen Roberts,an Occupy Asheville participant for distributing fliers at a Nov. 2 rally. Roberts says the fliers she distributed were pie charts endorsing the protest’s positions, and that she was not soliciting donations.
According to Roberts’ arrest report, provided by the APD, a Nov. 4 warrant for her arrest cited her for alleged violations of the following city ordinance:
“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.”
Roberts tells Xpress that she was passing out fliers with pie charts showing the distribution of wealth.
“A couple of days ago, I called to see if I had a warrant, they said I did, so I decided to go down to the courthouse, I was tired of watching my back,” Roberts said. “A lot of people being arrested were in small groups or by themselves. I think it’s pretty clear the police are trying to do that because it’s more intimidating that way.”
This is the latest in a series of arrests the Asheville Police Department has made in connection with the Nov. 2 rally. Under a series of warrants issued Nov. 4 and based on video from the march, the APD arrested seven Occupy Asheville protesters over the weekend, and stated that more may be coming.
“I want to fight this, I feel like it’s violating my freedom of speech,” Roberts says, adding that at no point did she solicit donations. “I asked people if they wanted to know why we were here. If they said ‘yes’ or held out their hand, I gave them a flier.”
Roberts was also among 24 protesters arrested during the Nov. 2 march, charged with second degree trespassing and resisting a public officer after they refused to leave the area near the Vance Monument after the park’s 10 p.m. curfew. Protesters said that breaking the curfew was an act of civil disobedience.
The U.S. Supreme Court, in cases like Lovell v. City of Griffin and Hague v. CIO has generally upheld broad protections for citizens and groups distributing leaflets in traditional public forums, like public squares or sidewalks.
“I’m still trying to get some information on my end about this,” City Attorney Bob Oast tells Xpress after asked to clarify what the ordinance prohibits. “I’m just not in a position to answer any questions about it.”