I stood at my Patton Avenue window on Tuesday night, June 2, and watched a team of police officers in riot gear attack hundreds of plastic water bottles with knives and boots. Slashed and smashed bottles filled the sidewalk outside an aid station — a “medic area” designed as a safe space for injured protesters — in the alley between Farm Burger and Salsa’s. A filament of water ran down Patton toward Lexington.
I had the experience then — an experience I imagine all of us have had when faced with behavior that seems to make no sense — of doubting what I was seeing. Surely, I thought, I’m missing something. Surely, there’s an explanation.
The explanations came next day from the Asheville police chief. First, protesters had been weaponizing water bottles, throwing them at officers. Second, officers were concerned about the risk of hidden “explosives.”
I know that bottles were flying on Monday night. One of those bottles slammed against my second-floor window.
Plastic water bottles may be, as weapons go, puny. But they can hurt. Nobody in a peaceful demonstration should be throwing anything at anyone.
As for the chief’s second concern, I’m troubled by the suggestion that the medical and health volunteers who staffed the aid station might have considered packing explosives among the parcels of bandages and water and antiseptics.
But water bottles and explosives weren’t the only things targeted by police in their Tuesday night attack on the aid station. It’s hard to imagine how bandages and saline solution could be weaponized, but they, too, were destroyed. Or how the health and medical volunteers distributing supplies and offering aid — workers who were, according to one volunteer, “hit with shields” and “thrown to the ground” — could become threats.
In my nine years as a downtown resident, I’ve come to admire the Asheville police. I’ve seen their humane response to tragedy, their measured reply to misbehavior, their readiness — as Chief David Zack demonstrated so well this week — to apologize when things go badly. But Tuesday night’s callous and brutish treatment of volunteers and their healing tools damages this history and weakens a bond that may be slow to mend. Asheville citizens —protester or not — want, I think, the same things our police officers want: to be free to help those who need our care, to be treated with respect, to not be seen as the enemy.
— Dan Foltz-Gray