The people spoke — and spoke and spoke and spoke — during the open comment portion of Council’s June 9 meeting. Many called for the resignation of Asheville Police Chief David Zack and Mayor Esther Manheimer. Many more called for the immediate defunding of the APD.
Manheimer allocated one hour of open comment at the end of a five-hour meeting, held virtually through the city’s public engagement hub and fraught with technical difficulties. Shortly after the meeting’s 5 p.m. start time, many of those attempting to tune in online received error messages associated with overwhelming web traffic. At one point, Council members had to pause the meeting entirely to restore their connection.
Earlier in the night, Council had moved a previously scheduled public hearing on the city’s budget to Tuesday, Aug. 25, a decision that frustrated commenters who had hoped to advocate for reduced APD spending. “It feels like they’re restricting the people that have shown up to talk tonight,” explained Ashley Cooper, who called into the meeting’s live speaker queue.
Nearly all of the commenters directly condemned APD’s destruction of protesters’ medical supplies during downtown demonstrations for racial justice on June 2. One caller, who said her friends and family in the Netherlands had seen the medic station on the local news in Europe, called the event an “international disgrace.”
Emily Cyr told Council she had watched APD “brutalize” the medic station before her own eyes. “I’m confused, and after listening to the chief’’s pathetic, prewritten excuse and watching him look down to read George Floyd’s name, I am even more disgusted,” she continued, referencing the black Minneapolis resident whose May 25 killing by police catalyzed protests in Asheville and across the country. “I want to still have faith in this community, but each passing day it gets harder and harder to be a proud civilian.”
Council’s actions are “inexcusable and unforgivable,” claimed Asheville native Pearl Foster. “Y’all enabled and sat quietly while multiple war crimes were committed against our own people. You allow the use of tear gas, which attacks the airways, during a global pandemic dozens of times. You allowed them to use ‘non-lethal’ weapons, including grenades the size of my fist.”
Lindsey Mount, who introduced herself as a “voter who stands with Black Lives Matter,” called for Zack to be fired for the “hideous” statement he released after the destruction of the medic station. Manheimer needed to step down too, she said. “It is very obvious you are not representing the city of Asheville the way you should be,” she argued.
Many of the commenters referenced Black AVL Demands, a self-described “intergenerational collective of black leaders” born out of the city’s recent racial justice protests. The group provided a template for callers to follow when addressing Council, asking for city-backed investment in black communities.
“Fifty percent of the APD’s budget should be invested in long-term safety strategies including supporting black startups and business, eliminating the racial opportunity gap in Asheville City Schools, and funding an all-civilian oversight committee with the power to hold the APD and individual officers accountable,” the script — and several callers — read.
Something needs to be done, Chris Muccio urged Council, after recounting what he experienced at the demonstrations on June 1. “Officers need to be held accountable for what they did,” he said. “And black lives matter — if you haven’t heard that tonight, black lives matter.”