Out-of-State Anarchists Agitate Police Dept. - TribPapers

Out-of-State Anarchists Agitate Police Dept.

Asheville At the last meeting of Asheville City Council, participants agreed it was wrong for people with nowhere else to go to be kicked out of their makeshift shelters into freezing cold temperatures. They disagreed on how, why, and what actually transpired.

Captain Michael Lamb of the Asheville Police Department (APD) had provided the city’s side of the story, albeit with sanitized lack of detail, as is customary of professional presentations. Those speaking during public comment at the end of the meeting, however, targeted anger at the police.

According to them, campers were doing nothing wrong. Members of the general public, however, had been alarmed not only at the privation of tent villages, but at the proliferation of hypodermic litter and news reports of camp-related overdoses, theft, and homicides.

Most complainants were upset about two journalists for the Asheville Blade, who had been arrested while standing far away and documenting the police raid in Aston Park Christmas night. Although it was a warm day, with temperatures rising over 70oF, Katy Hudson pointed out that, with climate change and the destabilization of the polar vortex, there was a freezing risk. Callers into the Zoom meeting explained locals had gathered for a community art party to share political slogans and create a windbreak for campers from cold December winds. 

A small sampling of the family art/illegal dumping police had to clear from Aston Park.

Out-of-State Agitators

The APD, however, reported the arrests of two from Ohio and one from Pennsylvania attending the “family art event,” which the city interpreted as “illegal dumping” on public property. Subsequent site cleanup involved the removal of 1,000-2,000 pounds of refuse that cost the city 100 man-hours plus $2,680 for heavy machinery. Family art included tires, pallets, benches, chairs, and bed frames. 

As expected, public comment was dominated by persons objecting to the enforcement of laws and ordinances for which they had no regard. Remarks included personal attacks against officers, demands for “harm reduction” or provision of free tools to enable substance abuse, slams against capitalism, and criticisms of council’s lack of progressivism.

Surprisingly, a small opposition contingency managed to carve out time in their busy schedules to participate in the meeting as well. One, Jim Fulton, spoke against the “loud and ludicrous drumbeat” of anarchists at these meetings receiving “little pushback” from members of council who were elected to protect their constituency. Fulton said citizens shouldn’t have to guess if their elected representatives are going to uphold their responsibility for ensuring public safety by supporting the police. Yet, with crime on the rise, and the police department having lost around 40 percent of its officers, the city is assigning the remaining officers to pay attention to and collect data on skin color to ensure equity and inclusion.

Fulton and others were speaking about a ballot initiative introduced by Ross Smith. Called Restore Asheville Police, the movement is trying to force council to pass a binding ordinance requiring the city to do whatever it takes to fill 250 sworn officer positions within two years and pay law enforcement agents at least as much as hires in the “highest-paid competing police departments.” When the website restoreashevillepolice.com was last updated, the city had only funded 238 law enforcement positions in the budget.

Ballot Initiative Details

Recruiting, training, equipping, and providing salaries with rich benefits to a full police force is going to be expensive. So, the ballot initiative requires that the city’s budget process be performed in two phases, the first of which will make sure the police department is fully staffed and fully funded. The initiative further states that the city shall not raise taxes on account of these steps to provide adequate public safety.

The problem, as defined by the initiative, is, “Crime, especially violent crime, has spiked. Asheville is in the top 10 percent of cities in crime per capita. Asheville has a record high in murders and illegal drug use is widespread. In many situations, the police will not even respond to 911 calls, when [response times] have increased dramatically. Officers’ workloads skyrocket, morale collapses.”

According to 247wallst.com, in 2019, Asheville’s annual crime rate was 7,067 incidents per 100,000 residents. North Carolina’s crime rate, which is just slightly higher than the national average, was 2,729 incidents per 100,000 residents. The tallies track just seven crime categories: larceny, burglary, motor vehicle theft, aggravated assault, robbery, rape and murder. Asheville ranks ninth among North Carolina cities for its crime rate, the cities with higher scores having much smaller populations. Asheville, however, “has a higher crime rate than the vast majority of all cities in North Carolina [with] a complete 2019 crime report and population of 5,000 or more.”

An article posted earlier this month on lawofficer.com reported that the defunding of the Asheville Police Department had made national news. According to Chief David Zack, in the past year response times for crimes like homicides increased from three minutes to three hours. The department is triaging calls and, as a general rule, not responding to certain categories of calls. Former APD officer Justin Wilson stated in his resignation letter, “Evil is real. Evil exists in Asheville, officers are surrounded by it, and they do their best with what they have. Please remember that.”

Questions –

Why are anarchists from around the country interested in supporting encampments of dispossessed persons and protecting the proliferation of drug abuse in those camps? Also, what would be the effects on unemployment, pensions, and homelessness of displacing a few hundred civil servants to fully-fund a highly-compensated and well-equipped police department while holding the budget flat?

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