In the aftermath of the Southeast Convergence for Climate Action’s protest at the Patton Avenue Bank of America branch on Aug. 13, some debate has centered on city government’s response. The Asheville Police Department wasn’t the only government entity to issue a public statement in the wake of the demonstration. Near the end of the City Council meeting the following day, Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy weighed in with her comments.
Bellamy’s message may have been distorted after a few runs through the local rumor mill, which generated conflicting accounts heard in various discussion circles since the event. Below are the mayor’s verbatim comments — taken from a tape of the meeting — with additional comments from Council members Robin Cape and Carl Mumpower, who addressed the matter shortly after Bellamy did.
— Rebecca Bowe, contributing editor (transcription by Jon Elliston, managing editor)
DISCUSSION AT THE AUG. 14, 2007, ASHEVILLE CITY COUNCIL MEETING:
Mayor Terry Bellamy: “We did have some bad news. We had people who were part of the Southeast Convergence on Climate Action come downtown to the city of Asheville to the Bank of America building and chain themselves in the building to protest [climate] change and [the bank’s] investments in coal-fired plants in places that are not even in our community. …
And it was amazing to me as mayor to have that happen in the city of Asheville, when just two hours down the street in Charlotte is the Bank of America’s headquarters. And I was thinking, ‘Why would you come Asheville to do your protest … it takes our city dollars and our city resources to deal with this issue.’ We had to pull officers who were patrolling as far west as out Leicester Highway to come downtown to help with this protest. … If they don’t like the investments Bank of America is making, go to the headquarters two hours away.
Not only that, but Progress Energy, they are doing more investment locally in cleaning up our smokestack than any other place. They use Asheville as the model place … on how to have a clean scrubber, how to have a better power plant.
And my concern is, I don’t want that to be the pattern in the city of Asheville. So I’ll be supportive of the police to use the force that they need to to not allow that to happen. And I do want to say, to set it straight for the record, [that] no police officer used any Tasers to address this concern, and so I would like that cleared up. … No Tasers were used. I just think that the best way to address these policies is, like the [city of Asheville’s] Sustainability Committee: We’re looking at our carbon emissions over the next few years, we’re looking at creative ways to address these issues. Councilman [Brownie] Newman is giving out light bulbs. I mean, there are creative ways to address this in our community, we need don’t need to have these types of demonstrations that impact people this way. And I think our community is bigger than that.”
[a few minutes later, other Council members addressed the issue]
Robin Cape: “I do want to go on record that I respectfully disagree with deterring the right for people to protest within the city of Asheville. I think you always take a risk when you go on private property to do your protest, but that’s one great thing: As someone who grew up in the military, what I was told over and over was that the guiding principle I was being raised with was that America was a place where people could stand up and voice their dissent in all areas. And that is one of the civil rights that I refuse to say is not acceptable. … I don’t protest, but I don’t want to say that other people can’t protest, because I think that’s what distinguishes us from many countries in the world and is a right that I would not want to give up.”
Terry Bellamy: “Let me be clear, because I know how things get started and go to YouTube or e-mails. The thing I think is deplorable is for them to chain themselves up on private property belonging to Bank of America and then refuse to leave when asked to. I think, we have permits, you are able to get a permit and protest in the city of Asheville. I don’t know the process, but I know that you can get a permit. You can have a march. You can have a rally. I’m not coming against that. I think that when people lock themselves up and go into a building and put on chains and collars and use bicycle locks to lock themselves in, that’s wrong. I think that that’s wrong.”
Carl Mumpower: “As someone who protests frequently at this table and is received with censorship and other constraints, I appreciate you highlighting the fact that these folks weren’t just protesting, they were intruding on the rights of others, and indulging themselves in disrupting a business. They had other agendas beside protestation, and I think our police are to be commended as you highlight, for their measured response to those activities. Some of the folks in that group appeared to be well trained in how to magnify their concerns and take full advantage of the opportunity that this is a tough thing for police to handle. And I was particularly proud of their measured and effective response to that abuse of other people’s rights.”
Robin Cape: “And I would like to continue by saying [that] I know people break the law, and I don’t support people breaking the law. But the way it was framed, the way I heard it, was that we wanted people not to protest in the city of Asheville, and I’m sorry if I misunderstood you. … If you’re on private property and you do things that are illegal, you know if you break the law, you break the law. And I support the police in doing what they need to do in those situations.”
END OF PROTEST DISCUSSION