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.

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