The Beat: Decamped

Circled: Occupy Asheville protesters form a circle in front of City Hall just before their eviction. Police arrested three protesters and removed the tents from the area. photos by Max Cooper

Feb. 17, morning…

A red-tailed hawk circles high above Asheville City Hall, basking in the rising sun. Still in the shadow of the mountain, the Occupy Asheville encampment is stirring. Some campers peer out from their tents. Others are already sorting their belongings, preparing for the noon departure deadline.

Asheville native John Penley, a longtime New York City resident who helped establish the original Zuccotti Park occupation there, has moved back to his hometown. He feels it’s important to be on hand for the camp’s last day.

"We’ve been able to bring the issue of making homelessness illegal with this encampment," Penley explains. "Every encampment I’ve been to has a different vibe … a different focus. I guess it depends on the city they’re in."

Then, remembering the very different Asheville he grew up in, Penley says: "I was captain of the football team the year they integrated 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."

Just then, Mayor Terry Bellamy pulls up to City Hall in her Lincoln.

"See what I mean?" asks Penley. "Totally different. Wow." He tries to talk with the mayor, but she rushes off.

Soon after, police Sgt. Jonathan Brown comes over to say good morning and ask if people are getting ready.

"You didn't bring us doughnuts?" jokes Penley.

"No, we eat bagels now — no doughnuts in uniform," Brown retorts.

Just then, another police sergeant walks by carrying a big box of Krispy Kremes, evoking hoots of laughter…
— Bill Rhodes


The narrow swath of ground is bare; most of the campers have pulled up their tents. Protesters move about picking up trash, bamboo poles, signs. A few campers declare their intent to face arrest, and about 50 Occupy Asheville members have gathered in support.

The writing was on the wall for the site — one of the last public Occupy encampments in the country — when, on Feb. 14, City Council voted 5-2 to ban camping on city property as of noon on Feb. 17.

But the deadline comes and goes as a lone police officer chats with the demonstrators. Eventually he leaves, and most of the protesters march to the Vance Monument and back, saying they’ll return when the 10 p.m. park curfew kicks in.

Around 1 p.m., Penley moves his tent from the campsite to a spot in front of City Hall. Police Sgt. Don Eberhardt asks Penley to move it to one side so it won’t block foot traffic, and after some negotiation, Penley complies…
— David Forbes


The hours go by and the sun goes down. Matthew Danovitch joins Penley in another tent, and yet another occupies the former campsite. By 10 p.m., around 30 protesters have gathered, chalking slogans such as “Occupy the Future” on the brick. About 20 minutes later, six APD officers arrive and ask the campers to move; they refuse.

The exchange is mostly cordial. About 20 people, some with pink duct tape over their mouths, make a circle nearby, humming "Om."

The police presence grows to 30 officers; they arrest Danovitch, Penley and Perry Graham, who owned the tent Danovitch was in and declined to move it. All three are charged with violating the city’s new ordinance.

The protesters shout “Shame!” Some compare the police to Nazis; others say they’re “just humans trying to survive.”

Police remove the tents and depart; a scattering of protesters remain.
— David Forbes

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