Recommended Reading

Today, I’m adding a new topic to the list (at the right of this page, click on one to see all the posts on that topic!).

In the course of the campaign, I’m coming across all sorts of interesting, enlightening, and though-provoking material. I’d like to share two of them in this first “Recommended Reading” post.

The first is an article from Strong Towns: There Are Three Different Kinds of Developers. I find Strong Towns usually has something interesting to say, even when I don’t agree with it. In this case, it’s a helpful overview that basically says “not all developers.” Hey, I get it if that makes you not want to read it. But still, I think it’s useful to understand that there really are different categories of developer, with different relationships to our community, and different priorities.

The second is a piece about how the visibility of poverty makes people feel unsafe — even if crime levels haven’t changed much. Have a look at People “Feel Unsafe” Because Visible Poverty Is Everywhere, written by Adam Johnson (The Column, on Substack). I found this analysis very persuasive, and it’s just as true for Asheville as it is for cities all around the country. I recommend reading the whole thing (some excerpts below).

“…[A] consistent theme in dozens of articles on the subject of “crime”: the current situation, more than anything, just *feels* unsafe.

Dismissing the Vibes isn’t tactically smart and can be perceived as glib, denialist, or detached. People are seeing more visible evidence of widespread poverty. And this trend, echoed and replayed nonstop by local media and viral Facebook posts, contributes to a broad perception that our society is falling apart. The Vibes, therefore, are thrown into the catch-all category of “safety.”

And with this sleight-of-hand, with this conflation, all social ills fall under the purview of policing and prisons. Vibes, by their very nature, become the purview of our carceral state.… So it’s police and longer sentences we get. Virtually no national conversation about tens of billions for free public housing and mental health, much less housing as a human right.…The victims are not those suffering from poverty and mental health issues, but the “homeowners” and “business leaders” who have to witness their slow, preventable deaths.…

Words cannot convey how depraved this is, how warped our priorities are, how deeply cynical and mean and nasty our media culture is.…What, in an otherwise rational world, would be perceived as a systemic failure of the “richest country on Earth” to care for its poor has been moralized, compartmentalized, and reduced to millions of individual moral failings and Bad Life Choices.”

Both of these articles address national trends, but they’re matters of great urgency for us here in Asheville. Let me know what you think about them!

Criminalizing First Amendment Speech & Feeding the Homeless

The City has decided to double down on the “felony littering” charges levied against a group who were protesting and aiding the unhoused in Aston Park on Christmas Day last year.

This is an egregious legal overreach.

My remarks:

Until this year, felony littering was charged exactly once in the past decade in Buncombe County.

I would be interested to know the process by which APD arrived upon this charge as the most appropriate one for a handful of people — no wait, six months later, it’s now 15 people — who arguably were feeding the hungry and exercising their First Amendment rights. Who came up with this creative legal strategy? I can’t imagine it was top-of-mind for APD in the heat of the moment on Christmas Day. Do we owe this innovative approach to a city attorney?

Am I in favor of people dumping trash in public parks? I am not.

Do I prefer that protestors refrain from making a mess? Yes.

Do I think that charging folks as felons is reasonable in this case? I do not.

Do I think that this prosecution will cost the city more than it’s worth, both financially and in reputation? Yes, I do.

Do I think the city will succeed in getting convictions with this prosecution? I’m skeptical.

One likely outcome is misdemeanor pleas. Another is a protracted and expensive litigation around first amendment issues. Outright dismissal is another plausible result. No matter how it plays out, it makes for an ugly picture for Asheville and I’d expect headlines nationally just as favorable as those we were graced with for the infamous Aid Station raid during the George Floyd demonstrations.

Is this the best use of city resources? Not to my mind.

Neither in the policing effort nor in any subsequent prosecution of charges. I won’t even go into the questionable claims about the quantity of so-called trash or the merits of the ‘art projects.’ For a department that’s short-staffed, investigating and pursuing the arrest of 16 citizens for their politically-motivated speech and humanitarian efforts seems an absurd and possibly unconstitutional overreach.

I urge City Council to ask that these charges be dropped. I likewise call upon District Attorney Williams to dismiss them.

Respecting Human Dignity

This was not the comment I went to this March 22 City Council meeting intending to make. But I felt compelled to address the perils of seeking “cleanliness” at the cost of regarding some human beings as trash.

Asheville has a huge challenge facing us in mitigating the suffering of our unhoused neighbors and addressing the disruption that visitors, businesses, and residents experience. Let us remember one anothers’ fundamental humanity while we do so.