Asheville cops cite activists who protested shooting death
Asheville, N.C. — Police in North Carolina have begun delivering citations to activists who last week protested the shooting death of a black man by an Asheville officer, a move that one city council member says “raises the specter of a police state.”
The Asheville Citizen-Times reported more than 20 people have been cited for a July 21 march and sit-in at the police department about the shooting death of 35-year-old Jai Williams, who died July 2. The most common charge is impeding the flow of traffic, police department spokeswoman Christina Hallingse said.
Demonstrators didn’t get a permit, and the city was unable to provide advance notice about traffic problems, she said.
The protest followed outrage over a series of publicized police shootings of black men — and attacks on police that killed five officers in Dallas and three officers in Louisiana.
Authorities are using department surveillance cameras and those worn by officers to identify protesters, Hallingse said. At the time of the shooting, Asheville police officers didn’t have body cameras.
Asheville city council member Cecil Bothwell, the chairman of the public safety committee, expressed concern about the citations.
“When people engage in civil disobedience to raise awareness about a cause they reasonably risk arrest,” he said Thursday. “However, retroactive citations based on identification of participants via photographic or video images raises the specter of a police state. I simply cannot support that approach to enforcement.”
A citation for impeding the flow of traffic has with a mandatory court cost of $188, said Cory Alexander, a deputy clerk at Buncombe County Court. A judge can impose an additional fee, he said.
Holly Roach, an activist with the group Showing Up For Racial Justice, led the march in her car. Police never told the protesters to move to the sidewalk, said Roach, who received a $218 infraction Wednesday.
The issuing of citations brings up questions about citizen surveillance and the use of city resources, she said. “It really sends a message to the people who are protesting that we’re being watched and it feels like a violation of our First Amendment right,” she said.
Last week, Asheville police arrested six protesters and one journalist during the sit-in at the downtown station. Law enforcement allowed protesters to stay at the downtown police department building for over 24 hours before arresting people July 22.