From CPP: Asheville police action at protest medic station draws outrage

Tear gas deployed in downtown Asheville
As police release tear gas to disperse protesters in downtown Asheville Wednesday night, one man dives into the back of a moving truck and another staggers in a cloud of the gas. Photo by Colby Rabon, courtesy of Carolina Public Press

By Frank Taylor, originally published by Carolina Public Press. Carolina Public Press is an independent, in-depth and investigative nonprofit news service for North Carolina.

Police and National Guard troops in gas masks and heavy riot gear confronted protesters Wednesday night in downtown Asheville, using tear gas to disperse crowds defying an 8 p.m. curfew put in place after peaceful demonstrations turned violent on previous nights.

Although less eventful than on some other recent nights when some downtown locations have been vandalized, Wednesday’s activities included several arrests of those violating the curfew.

A dispute over police actions during Tuesday night’s protest drew an expression of disappointment from Mayor Esther Manheimer on Wednesday and a late afternoon statement of explanation from Police Chief David Zack.

As police began enforcing the 8 p.m. curfew Tuesday, they entered a downtown medic station, forcefully pushed staff away and violently destroyed bottles and jugs of water with knives and their feet. Several staff members issued statements of disgust to local news media.

Manheimer responded to reports of the incident with a statement on her Facebook page during the day. “I am aware of the incident involving officers destroying the medical supplies of demonstrators, including water bottles, food and other supplies,” she said.

“[The City] Council has asked for an explanation of why that occurred. We are a city that cares, and I want to thank all of our officers who have taken a knee and worked to protect us. But this was a disappointing moment in an otherwise peaceful evening.”

Late Tuesday afternoon, the chief provided a statement attempting to justify officers’ actions at the medic station by describing preemptive self-defense against water bottles.

“The Asheville Police Department would always prefer confiscation over destruction,” Zack said. “We apologize for not being able to confiscate these supplies last night.”

However, witness statements indicated no attempt to confiscate was made, with officers seizing some bottles and pouring them out. Sean Miller, a spokesperson for the medic group, said the group had no idea why police were acting as they did, using physical force against both the people and their supplies. She said they received no warning.

Water bottles were a key focus, Zack said, because of their role on previous nights of protest.

Upside-down American flag at Asheville protests
Protesters in downtown Asheville Monday night invert an American flag as they face off against police in riot gear ordering them to disperse after an 8 p.m. curfew. Photo by Colby Rabon, courtesy of Carolina Public Press

“Over the past three days, APD has tried to eliminate objects that can be thrown at protesters and law enforcement. Because water bottles, in particular, have been continuously used over the last three nights, officers destroyed them. Officers have also searched for potentially dangerous objects such as explosives.”

Contrary to reports that the medic station had been city approved, Zack contended it was not.

“The supply station was not permitted by the city of Asheville and was located on private property without the permission of the property owner,” he said. “The actions involving the supply station occurred following multiple warnings and after the 8 p.m. citywide curfew.”

Staff members at the medic station gave statements to the news media indicating that they believed they had an oral agreement with police to operate there and that the aggressive and destructive police behavior came without clear warning or explanation.

Later, a member of the group acknowledged that it had permission from the surrounding stores to be there but had been unaware that a different individual actually owned all of the property in the alley off Patton Avenue where they had set up.

A spokesperson for APD told Carolina Public Press in a Thursday morning email that the police received a complaint from that property owner on Monday.

Miller told CPP that the medic group did not learn of any complaint from a property owner until members were starting to set up Wednesday in the same alley and then relocated to near City Hall.

The medic group was there to provide water, bandages and possibly other emergency medical care to protesters.

Week of protest over police actions

Like much of the rest of North Carolina and the nation, Asheville has been the scene of protests over the last week due to the death of George Floyd, who died in police custody in Minnesota. His death has brought renewed outrage over the tactics police use and their treatment of African Americans.

Asheville’s protests, like those elsewhere, have primarily been peaceful. However, incidents have occurred, including clashes with police and vandalism to storefronts.

Asked by CPP at a press conference earlier this week why he sent officers out in riot gear to respond to protests over aggressive police tactics, the police chief claimed this was initially done because protesters threatened to block Interstate 240 Sunday night, creating a hazard to themselves and motorists.

Mayor meets with medical team organizers

Late Thursday afternoon, Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer posted the following to her Facebook page:

“Today, along with the city manager and members of the Asheville police department I met with the organizers of the medical team supporting the protesters whose station was destroyed earlier this week. On behalf of the city I apologized to London Newton and [Sean] Miller who have made an enormous effort to fundraise for and organize this needed service. We worked together to make sure they can continue to provide medical services and we offered and they have accepted a reimbursement for their supply losses. This is a first step in coming together. We can do better and we will. And I want to thank [UNC-Asheville] Chancellor Nancy Cable who brought us together to have this important conversation.”

Thursday evening, Police Chief David Zack issued an apology via YouTube, indicating that he was “truly sorry” for how the situation was handled.

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20 thoughts on “From CPP: Asheville police action at protest medic station draws outrage

  1. Johnny to the A

    Esther Manheimer crying is a vomiting inducing moment.

    True leaders are empathetic and not sympathetic. Her emotions continue to cloud rational thinking and her ability to lead this city beyond its troubles.

    The participation of academics from little ole UNCA is also nauseating. Academics are the last of American royalty.

    Police Chief David Zack was likely coerced into making his statement. Odds are high he’s already determined accepting the Asheville Chief position was a career mistake on his part. He’ll wisely move on in the near future. No one could blame him.

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    • luther blissett

      You’re really going with “women are too emotional to lead”, huh? You really think that’s a winning argument when cops have been having toddler-grade temper tantrums in riot gear for the past week?

      Mr Zack’s “sorry we destroyed your stuff, we should have confiscated it instead” was exactly the wrong thing to say — apparently looting is okay if you’re a cop — and it’s good that he walked it back. Time to reset. (Do police chiefs need empathy to lead? Please clarify.)

      If the city has an ongoing problem finding a police chief, maybe the problem isn’t the city.

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      • bsummers

        Are you suggesting there’s an entrenched good-ol-boy faction in the APD that is determined to make the job untenable for any Chief that isn’t one of them, and that on top of that, they create problems solely to make life difficult for a Mayor and/or Council they don’t like, despite the fact that this is a betrayal of their oath to protect and serve?

        ‘Cause that kinda sounds like what you were suggesting, and I think you may be onto something there…

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    • Dopamina

      Unfortunately, in a democracy, we sometimes have to tolerate leaders we don’t like.

      Crying on MountainX isn’t going to do anything, what do you actually plan on doing besides crying on the internet?

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  2. C-Law

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—Asheville and Buncombe County have gotten EXACTLY the government they DESERVE!

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      • C-Law

        I HEARTILY ACCEPT THE MOTTO—“That government is best which governs least”; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe,—“That government is best which governs not at all”; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have. Government is at best but an expedient; but most governments are usually, and all governments are sometimes, inexpedient. — Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience

        Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two makes four. If that is granted, all else follows.

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        • Dopamina

          Cool, so you support the public’s right to protest! Good to know you support the civil disobedience being engaged in by the protestors downtown! :D

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          • James

            If cops didn’t kill unarmed black people there’d be no protests. lulz.

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        • James

          So you agree with fewer cowards with badges and guns restricting the right to freedom of assembly and the petitioning the government for the redress of grievances? Cool! Who knew you had any brains. Of course, I’m sure you will happily refuse any Social Security, Medicare, FEMA Aid, firefighters showing up at your door, courts that would protect your rights if you are attacked or defrauded etc etc… You people can never find a piece of government that doesn’t ultimately benefit you to cut….

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          • Lulz

            Oh I certainly do agree with fewer police from here on out. Simply because many will live with the consequences. And they need to.

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    • Cathy Gerson

      Why should we deserve that! That’s such a negative attitude, especially in this time of troubles. Be thankful for what you have, and help others less fortunate

  3. Reality Check

    Wait….did I really just read an article about people upset over WATER BOTTLES being destroyed and disposed of? AVL has gone off it’s already thin rocker. Such petty and screwed-up priorities. More comments on an article about water bottles than there were about Wanda Greene and her criminality. No, most readers went into hiding about that and wouldn’t address it. Ridiculous…..

    Meanwhile, the underlying event that triggered all this may have been a false flag. What a curious face on that poster on May 17 on Obama’s Twitter. https://twitter.com/ObamaFoundation/status/1262054709772324866 Did we witness a piece of kabuki theater on May 25?

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