Occupy Asheville protester arrested for passing out fliers

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.”


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34 thoughts on “Occupy Asheville protester arrested for passing out fliers

    • Buncy

      That charge will never fly. The police had no business charging her. The ordinance applied in such a way is blatantly unconstitutional, and I doubt that the ordinance is even designed to prohibit political pamphlets or pie charts.

      Outrageous harassment, pure and simple.

  1. trevor

    first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then you win.

    the fascistic tactics employed by local police departments, particularly against smaller occupations, will only serve to strengthen the movement in general. stay strong. much love and solidarity from richmond.


  2. LOKEL

    So at Bele Chere when bars are passing out “billets” it is OK, but when a Constitutionally protected group is doing it …..

    hello…. ACLU

  3. Matt S

    Now that is dumb, this occupy stuff sure has ended up like a Spy Vs Spy episode. One day there’s a bunch of people trying to go to jail in the park, and the next there are cops arresting people for passing out flyers. ???

  4. Concerned citizen

    I can’t believe this! The APD are just making themselves look horrible. Shady shady shady.

  5. Kayvon Kazemini

    I hereby propose that November 8th be called ‘National Hand Out a bunch of Fliers Day’ in honor of Helen Roberts.

  6. rob roberts

    GO Girl………Helen is my daughter and could not be any more proud of her and the movement she supports.lov you hel

    • Paul

      All Americans who support the First Amendment and free speech should be proud of her. Thank you for passing on our cherished values to your daughter.

  7. Karrealot

    An ordinance against passing out fliers?? Why is it okay for all the religious crazies to pass out fliers at Bele Chere? I didn’t see any of them getting arrested. What about when bars pass out fliers? This ordinance is stupid and just another way to find fault with the protesters. I hope the City does what’s right and dismiss these ridiculous charges!

  8. RabidDonkey

    So every local restaurant that leaves me a flyer at my house is subject to arrest. All the city council campaign volunteers and the 1/4cent tax hike exponents that were handing out printed matter on Tuesday are subject to arrest. Anyone who leaves a flyer under my windshield wiper downtown is subject to arrest.
    How often is this ordinance enforced, I wonder.
    What a crock!

  9. Matthew Burd

    City Attorney Oast might be eating his shoe by the end of this. He is after all advising the APD on how to handle he Occupy Asheville bunch. It seems he has somehow forgotten a lot of crucial infomation in his area of expertise. I wonder if he will have any blowback for advising people to break the law.

  10. dankster

    Great example displaying how free we all really are & how much we all are being controlled!..no one can really say “oh no not me the government can’t control me”. it’s happening all around us,that’s why the time is now!,”Odrama” sure hasn’t changed anything! only us as a whole can.

  11. NotDaveNC

    Ashevillians: Take any flyers you receive to the DA, and demand even-handed prosecution. If they enforce against businesses, TPTB will tell them to back off. If not, it will look very good when the Occupy lawsuits get rolling, and there are going to be a ton.

    Completely unrelated observation: This site’s spell checker thinks “flyers” is mis-spelled.

  12. Bill Perkins

    Will they follow up on Oriental Pavilion and Favilla’s Pizza then? They leave litter on my stoop monthly.

  13. D. Dial

    It’s obvious that the City Manager and City Attorney are in over thier heads with the “Occupiers.”

    Their hamfisted kneejerk reactions are looking bad to sane people. I’m thrilled to see them being revealed for the incompetents they are.

    “Hi I am from Occupy Raleigh and when I posted the article on OccupyRaleigh’s FB page about one of your people being arrested for flyering I go this response from one our folks so here it is

  14. Khyber Pass

    Looks like Helen is getting us down to the nitty-gritty of the Bill of Rights vs. the Establishment. It’s great to see the young people stepping up and taking action. Thanks, Helen.

    I’m just sorry that it has to come to this.

    I suppose negotiating with the Establishment for your right to pass out literature to willing participants has failed and they really think they are in the driver’s seat and God is on their side?
    Well, of course they do.

    Indeed, let’s bring in the ACLU. Asheville like publicity, so let’s give ’em some national exposure.

    Has the Occupy movement decided on a color to symbolize the effort you all are making on behalf of every citizen who values democracy? If not, what color will do? Yellow for sunshine in back rooms would be nice.

  15. Jeff

    “I’m just not in a position to answer any questions about it.”

    Really, Bob? You are City Attorney. I think interpreting this city’s laws is pretty much the DEFINITION of your position.

  16. LOKEL


    Why weren’t folks at the polls who were handing out POLITICAL MATERIALS being arrested yesterday ….

    can someone answer that one for me!

    • Barry Summers

      Because candidates pay a fee to the BOE? So the City considers them to be like little temporary businesses, which they are if you think about it.

      Now if some punk were leafletting over a write-in candidate or somebody else who hadn’t paid for the privilege, then he would deserve a broken skull at the hands of the APD, or maybe even… The Rope.

  17. Barry Summers

    “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.”

    We’re coming full circle. Some time ago, ‘commercial speech’ was granted the same protections as ‘political speech’. Now, here we have the City of Asheville, it’s City Attorney and it’s Police Dept. setting the precedent that ONLY commercial speech is given those protections. Any handing-out of fliers is now considered “advertising”. If Helen had applied for a business license and paid her privilege tax, she could hand out fliers all day long.

    For God’s sake, fight this. This is the beginning of the end for America if you can’t hand out political fliers in the public square.

    Interesting that this happens on the same day that the AC-T (and all Gannett papers, looks like) announces that you have to have a Facebook account to participate in their online comment section.

  18. Lawyer

    This ordinance is clearly unconstitutional. I have practiced First Amendment law for 25 years and have had a number of similar ordinances invalidated on First Amendment grounds. There is been no about about the unconstitutionality of such laws since the Supreme Court decided Marsh v. Alabama in 1949. Ms. Roberts needs to sue the city in federal court to determine that both the ordinance and her arrest are unconstitutional. Then she needs to sue the APD under section 1983 for violating her clearly established constitutional rights.

    • Occupied

      Hello Lawyer! If you would be interested in offering any legal advice to the Occupy movement, we would all be extremely grateful for your knowledge in the area of the First Amendment. Please stop by at one of our GAs and meet our Legal Working Group. Thank you!

    • helenrosey27

      Hello! This is the young lady who was arrested. I could use your legal expertise. I have never had to deal with anything like this before, so any advice would be helpful. Could you find me on facebook? I am not allowed to put personal info in the comments section.

  19. Buncy

    Yes, I agree with 25-year constitutional lawyer. The ordinance is unconstitutional on its face and as applied.

    The city is really wanting to get itself sued this time. And the taxpayers will have to pay the judgment and attorney fees.

  20. smab470

    So why haven’t the business people figured out that this type of publicity will be bad for business given Asheville’s reputation as a somewhat progressive city? It would make sense for the business community to tell the police to be more accomodating and less confrontational. We do not need to be seen as a redneck hicktown city on the wrong side of a constitutional lawsuit. On the other hand this could be remembered as a small triggering step in the growth of Occupy into a major movement that revolutionizes the political landscape by giving the people honest politicians that work together with business ….and labor and environmental groups and educators and…many more to create a more perfect union.

  21. mother margaret

    i can’t believe this. asheville? my daughter went to UNCA and lived there a couple of years after. it is such a cool city for the south. i will have to revise my opinion. the citizens are (especially the Occupiers) are still cool IMO, but the gov’t s*cks.

    Occupy Everything

  22. ta33

    The key word here is “advertisement”. If distributing factual information to willing recipients is considered “advertisement”, then we are worse off than I imagined. This buffoonery on the part of the APD does more harm to them than good. I smell a lawsuit.

  23. Barry Summers

    Is it true the charges were dropped? What’s next? Do Bob Oast and the APD just get to say “never mind” and that’s the end of it?

    They should be called to account for violating this young woman’s rights and for illegally sending a chill through the protesters.

  24. D. Dial

    Barry, I truly believe the overkill tactics were meant to intimidate the Occupiers into giving up & leaving. It’s obviously backfired. But this is a very effective method used time and again. It’s just not working in this situation.

  25. D. Dial

    I’d love to know who decided to approach this in a draconian “show of force,” not unlike Soviet Russia.

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