After Asheville City Council refused Occupy Asheville’s request for indefinite camping in a public park on Oct. 25, eight protesters remained in Pack Square Park after curfew and were arrested. Four of those demonstrators tell Xpress about what they did, and why they did it.
Following Council’s decision, about 60 demonstrators gathered outside City Hall, chanting slogans. Over the next few hours, most of the protesters (and the police watching them) left. Some chose to remain after the 10 p.m. curfew and Asheville Police Department officers asked them to leave. According to the APD’s statement on the incident, most moved to another location.
But eight didn’t, and when they refused to move to another location, the APD arrested Joseph Lee Wallen, Robert Ryan Halas, Justin Eugene Jones, Matthew Tyler Burd, Terry James Whittey, Victoriano Alejandro Ochoa, Robert William Logsdon, Kayvon Kazemini for second-degree trespassing.
Here’s video of the arrests, taken by one of the Occupy Asheville demonstrators:
“They offered that we could walk to the jailhouse, but that would have been complying,” Kazemini tells Xpress. “We know there’s an ordinance; we believe the Constitution supersedes that.”
He asserts that the encampment the protesters are requesting isn’t an event like a festival, but instead an expression of the people’s constitutional right to assemble, and thus not subject to city rules like the curfew. “We just wanted one curfew
“They’re not allowing us to exercise our First Amendment rights to gather as a general assembly, which is what we are, we’re not selling anything,” Logsdon said. “We’re uniting as people, and they’re not letting us do that.”
“Our friend [Burd] decided he wasn’t going to leave the park, so we decided we weren’t going to leave either,” Jones tells Xpress. “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 says.
“If you can’t appeal to City Council, who do you appeal to?” Kazemini says. “The name Occupy Asheville might confuse people, but this is for all the people.”
He added that organizers from the demonstration were meeting with staff from the Downtown Association in an effort to improve outreach.
“We certainly need the oversight of the Asheville community,” Kazemini noted.
All four said, however, that the APD’s treatment of the protest was courteous.
“They’re clearly nicer than your average cop,” Logsdon says, though he adds that similar arrests to clear protesters out of parks will be harder if Occupy Asheville’s numbers increase. “It took four hours to book eight people, they wouldn’t want to mess with 100.”
“It was good training for the police,” Kazemini says with a laugh.