Hi! It’s been a while since we’ve posted a statement. Here’s an account of what’s happened so far, with a few updates. Expect more to come soon!
One year ago local activists held a multi-day community event in a local park, Aston Park, to raise awareness of homeless camp evictions. On December 25, 2021 police evicted the art party, arresting six people for trespassing, including 2 journalists. At this time, Asheville Police Department (APD) initiated extensive surveillance of local organizers and activists.
From January to April 2022, APD arrested 16 people for “felony littering” and related charges, on the basis of alleged participation in the December 2021 community event.
Felony littering is a crime commonly applied to businesses dumping waste, not protesters or homeless camp evictions.
Officer Mike Lamb stated to Asheville City Council in a January 2022 meeting that when the police conduct homeless camp evictions they do not arrest “unsheltered folks” but only arrest “activists, anarchists”. This evidences a bias against the political beliefs of those present at homeless camp evictions. That month, APD secretly surveilled the free hot food and survival gear distributions conducted weekly at Aston Park by Asheville Survival Program (or “ASP”, an ”anarchist” mutual aid grassroots group) from inside a nearby park facility, in some cases openly following participants home in police cars.
Shortly after the first arrests for felony littering charges, it became public knowledge that Asheville City Council was secretly considering an ordinance that would ban food sharing in public parks and thereby prohibit Asheville Survival Program’s weekly distribution activities, as well as many other formal and informal groups sharing resources in public parks. The City backed away from this after a massive public outcry and a petition initiated in protest by BeLoved (a local nonprofit) which garnered over 3500 signatures.
As City Council distanced itself from the idea of a food sharing ordinance, Asheville Parks and Recreation banned the defendants from public parks for “commission of a felony”. These bans were appealed and denied at the extrajudicial discretion of the City of Asheville’s Parks & Recreation director, D. Tyrell McGirt. Many of the defendants had been involved in food and survival gear sharing in Aston Park, as members of ASP, and in other parks as part of faith service groups. Because of this, the ban forced ASP to abruptly relocate from Aston Park, disrupting community care.
Over a half a year after the initial charges, the defendants were officially indicted to Superior Court for felony littering in August, 2022. Although the defendants have been extended offers to plead guilty to avoid a felony trial, all maintain their innocence. At this time, a trial date is expected to be set at the next administrative hearing on January 23.
The impact of these charges on the defendants has been substantial, including mounting attorneys’ fees, missed work days, hurdles to housing access and employment, and the aforementioned bans limiting defendants’ ability to offer care to our community.
Moreover, as of this writing, three of the defendants have insufficient legal representation.
We are seeking recommendations for attorneys licensed to practice in NC and available to work pro bono or at discounted rates in a political felony trial setting.
Please send recommendations to: AVLcampsolidarity@protonmail.com
Financial support can be shared to venmo at @AVLdefendantfund.