Year in review: Local activism makes a mark on WNC

Student protestors with signs
STOP SIGNS: Many students at the downtown rally on April 19 carried handmade posters to protest gun violence. Photo by Daniel Walton

Asheville is an activist’s town, and 2018 controversies in local government, including the ongoing fallout from the investigation into former County Manager Wanda Greene and the police beating of Asheville resident Johnnie Rush, gave local residents plenty of reasons to seek change.

1. Asheville students protest gun violence: In lockstep with sister marches around the country, thousands of protesters gathered in Pack Square on March 24 to march against gun violence, an issue brought to the fore (again) after the Feb. 14 mass shooting of 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Chanting “Enough is enough” and “No more lives,” the crowd marched through downtown Asheville, ending at Martin Luther King Jr. Park to hear from speakers, including Anna Dittman, a survivor of the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School.

2. Residents support immigrant community following ICE raids: Following the detention of approximately 15 Western North Carolina residents by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in April, hundreds of protesters took to the streets outside Asheville’s federal courthouse, including Asheville City Council members Sheneika Smith, Brian Haynes and Vijay Kapoor. Activists also disrupted a picnic of ICE agents in Henderson County, the only WNC county that participates in the federal 287(g) immigration enforcement program, and walked out of a debate featuring then-Henderson County Sheriff Charlie McDonald.

3. Signs protesting Johnnie Rush beating appear: Unofficial signs popped up around downtown Asheville in early March warning pedestrians that jaywalkers would be “subject to abuse by the Asheville Police Department.” Former Asheville police officer Chris Hickman, who has been accused of assaulting resident Johnnie Rush, initially stopped Rush for jaywalking. “Abuse may include, but not limited to, punches, kicks and billy club strikes to the head, torso and extremities, electroshock administered by taser gun, and gunshots to the body and head,” the signs read. City workers removed over 20 of the signs.

4. Angry Taxpayers mail hundreds of letters to county employees: The Angry Taxpayers PAC ruffled some feathers when it sent letters to the personal addresses of hundreds of county employees encouraging them to vote for Republican candidates in the 2018 Buncombe County Board of Commissioners race. The mailers prompted the county to send an email to employees stating that the county had not released personal addresses to the PAC and that the letter was not endorsed by any of the commissioners mentioned.

5. Women’s March enters its second year: About 3,000 marchers showed up for the Women’s March on Asheville. The first march was held shortly after President Donald Trump’s inauguration in early 2017. Organized by four students from Asheville High School, the march started at Memorial Stadium, where attendees heard from Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer and Asheville City Council member Sheneika Smith.

6. Activists show disappointment over city budget: Following the revelation of the Rush beating, activists in Asheville decried a proposed $2 million increase in the Police Department’s budget. At the forefront of the protests was the Rev. Amy Cantrell of BeLoved Asheville, who organized a teach-in and rally outside of Asheville City Council chambers before the budget vote. The resistance culminated with Cantrell sitting in front of the Council speaker’s podium and refusing to move; officers eventually led her out of the building and charged her with second-degree trespass. Council voted 4-3 to pass the budget with the police funding increase intact.

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About David Floyd
David Floyd was a reporter for the Mountain Xpress. He previously worked as a general-assignment reporter for the Johnson City Press.

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