Asheville council members voted to maintain police funding for at least another three months, setting up a tense clash with protesters.
Police made at least four arrests in Asheville Sunday as protestors continued to fill the streets following the City Council’s rejection of major funding cuts to the city’s police department.
On June 30, the City Council voted to fully fund the Asheville Police Department for three months. Following the vote, protesters angered by the council’s decision marched in the streets calling for APD to have their funding cut in half.
“Police, the way that it’s militarized, represents … a visualization of the systematic oppression that’s been going on against Black people,” a demonstrator told WLOS.
The crowd, initially 50-people strong, swelled as cyclists provided a protective perimeter around marchers. The demonstrators blocked downtown streets and ultimately shut down Interstate 240, which surrounds the mountain city, before disbanding. Organizers vowed to hold more demonstrations.
Organizers made good on their promise over the weekend.
Demonstrations on Saturday resulted in minor injuries to four law enforcement officers plus the arrests of six protestors.
Activists returned on Sunday, assembling in Pack Square Park in downtown Asheville. Standing with interlocked arms, the protestors occupied the park until 1 a.m.
Earlier in the evening, the Asheville Police Department posted on Twitter that they had spoken with the event’s organizers, and notified them that anyone who obstructed streets, trespassed or caused injury to anyone would be arrested.
Police told WLOS they made four arrests during the protest Sunday, citing demonstrators’ reported use of bicycles and vehicles to block streets.
Tense Moments Saturday
The most tense moment of the protests, however, came Saturday night, when police received a call from a downtown hotel reporting that demonstrators were blocking guests from entering the hotel and were breaking front windows, APD spokesperson Christina Hallingse told The Asheville Citizen Times.
When officers arrived, the demonstrators moved into the streets. Bicyclists surrounded one APD vehicle, Hallingse stated. The vehicle’s driver warned protestors that they would be arrested if they failed to move. When they did not move, officers started making arrests.
“When they began doing so, a group of protestors jumped on top of officers and began assaulting them,” Hallingse said. “Four officers received minor injuries.”
Police arrested six demonstrators, ranging in age from 19 to 29 years old. Police records indicated that of the six, four were from Asheville, one was from Swannanoa and one was from West Virginia.
Five of the protestors were charged with misdemeanors, including failure to disperse on command, resisting a public officer, impeding traffic and disorderly conduct. One demonstrator, Auden David Miller of Asheville, was charged with assaulting a government official, which is a class A1 misdemeanor.
Similar to other “defund the police” demonstrations across the country, Asheville advocates seek to cut the police department’s budget and reallocate funds to community arbitrators and mental health experts, who they say can defuse situations before they spiral into criminal activities and arrests.
According to WLOS, the Asheville City Council voted 5 to 2 on June 30 to only fund city operations for the first quarter. By doing so, the council hoped to give themselves and the city time to decide how to handle the police department budget for the rest of the year.
Council members told WLOS, that for the most part, they all agreed that policing procedures need to change in Asheville. That said, they didn’t want to rush their decision.
“It would be completely irresponsible just to cut the police budget by 50% and figure it out later,” Councilwoman Julie Mayfield said.
“If you don’t want the police to respond to maybe an attempted suicide, someone needs to be identified. Who will go and try and help that person? And, right now, there’s no plan for any of that,” Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler said.
Wisler added that a community input and engagement session will be held sometime in the coming weeks.