All tactical decisions during Asheville’s protests for racial justice in June — including the use of chemical weapons and the destruction of a protester medical station — were made entirely by Asheville Police Department officers, City Attorney Brad Branham told Asheville City Council on Sept. 8, as he shared his internal review of the events.
According to Branham’s report, City Manager Debra Campbell directed APD Chief David Zack to “keep people safe” on May 31. With the exception of Mayor Esther Manheimer, who requested support from the National Guard, no member of Council provided any direction to Campbell or the APD during the protests. But determining Council’s culpability in the response, argued public commenters at the close of the meeting, was beside the point.
“I did a little Googling after I heard the city attorney’s report,” said David Greenson. “I was curious if the Minneapolis City Council had their city attorney put together a report suggesting that none of their members had specifically ordered officers to kill George Floyd. I wondered if they felt it was important to make it super clear that none of these politicians had actually told anyone to put a knee on George Floyd’s neck until he was dead. Because frankly, that’s the only analogy I can think of for the report we heard tonight.”
Council member Brian Haynes disputed that the events detailed in the report were “facts.” Only Council and APD officers were interviewed; unless Branham’s office reviewed every bit of footage and talked to protesters, Haynes said, calling the presented timeline factual was “less than accurate.”
Earlier on Sept. 8, Zack had informed Council’s Public Safety Committee that he planned to finalize APD’s own internal report, including any resulting disciplinary action, within the next 90 days. That was too long to wait, argued Council member Sheneika Smith. Instead, she called for frequent updates from Zack while concurrently gathering protesters’ stories.
“We need truth,” Smith said. “Everything hinges on this moment. If this goes wrong, then the conversations to reimagine the police don’t go right. We have a lot to figure out.”