With chants of "Stop mountaintop removal, it kills!" and "No more coal!" some 40 protesters gathered around the Bank of America located on Patton Avenue this afternoon.
Several other protesters, some of whom had locked themselves together around the neck, entered the building; at least four were arrested. Several activists said they believed that some inside the building had been tasered, and others complained that the arrestees were treated roughly.
The Asheville Police Department arrived with some 18 officers in riot gear, three K-9 officers and 19 other personnel, as well as at least 25 police cars, blocking the entrance to the bank and entering it to remove the protesters. The outside protest, including people waving banners and dressed as canaries and polar bears, then moved across the street to Pritchard Park.
"We're here protesting Bank of America's funding of mountaintop removal coal mining, specifically Massey Energy, one of our big criminals in the mountaintop-removal arena," said Reagan Richmond, a spokesperson for the Southeast Convergence for Climate Action, which organized the demonstration. "What they're doing in Appalachia is extremely devastating to the environment and the economy of this area."
Bank of America officials have said that the bank's critics are ignoring all the company has done to support green-business programs. This past March, for example, BOA launched a $20 billion initiative to support environmental-business practices, green their facilities, and facilitate carbon trading.
One protester, who identified himself as "Andrew," said he heard "high-pitched shrieking" after seeing police wielding tasers.
"They were taken out of the bank, we hope to jail, [and] we hope they're not hurt. The person I saw was handled pretty roughly," Richmond said. Xpress is attempting to obtain comment from police authorities about the activists' allegations.
City Council candidate Lindsey Simerly was among those attending the protest. She told Xpress beforehand that she believes that grass-roots efforts are needed to confront climate change.
APD Capt. Tim Splain talked to Xpress in front of Bank of America after the demonstration had moved to the park.
Splain noted the “four or five” demonstrators who had locked themselves inside the bank had been arrested, and at the time, at least one had been transported to jail.
“They are free to use the park," Splain said. "We are not concerned with [practicing] the freedom of speech, just blocking the road or someone getting hurt or damaging property."
Due to the number of police vehicles, traffic on Patton was blocked. Nearby business owners and pedestrians warily took in the action, some of them yelling at the protestors, “Get a job!” and “Take a bath!”
From Richmond's perspective, the protest went well, she said as it was winding down.
"There was no police brutality against the general protesters,” she said. “It would have been nice to have the people inside not arrested, but that's a risk you run when you do this -- and that makes a statement too, that we're serious about our future and about climate change."
Earlier, standing outside the bank, a protester who identified herself only as "Hattie," said that the stakes are high.
"Coal is a chief contributor to climate change and if we don't shape up our act soon, by 2050 we're talking massive extinctions,” she said. “We're talking the death of the planet here. Bank of America is a cog in this machine."
While some questioned the large police response, Splain said that preparing the riot team is the standard procedure whenever a sizable demonstration occurs. "We prep them every time we hear about something like this,” he said.
The riot team, Splain added, suits up inside the police station, awaiting orders. This time was the first since the immigration rally last year that the team has made a public appearance.
“Usually, they stay in the station and are never seen," Splain said.
The Southeast Convergence for Climate Action, a week-long gathering near Brevard from Aug. 8 to 14, was part of a series of international rallies protesting industry practices related to climate change. It included groups that have campaigned against mountaintop-removal coal mining and the nuclear-power industry. The press announcement for the convergence noted that "direct action" would be a central theme, with the overall aim of "building a no-compromise climate justice movement."
Richmond said that the conference had been under surveillance all weekend, including "lots of helicopter fly-overs,” and that “last night, they started piling cops onto both sides of the road [nearby]. Today, as we were leaving, they followed everyone out."
This morning, the Asheville Citizen-Times reported that participants would stage a protest today outside the Progress Energy plant in Buncombe County. Splain said that he and his officers were there as well, and evidently any plans to protest there were abandoned.
— With reporting by Rebecca Bowe, Jon Elliston, David Forbes and Brian Postelle
ASHEVILLE POLICE DEPARTMENT PRESS RELEASE
For Immediate Release
Aug. 14, 2007
Asheville Police Department
Contact: Sgt. Liz Budd
Five arrested in downtown protest
ASHEVILLE – Asheville police on Monday, Aug. 13 arrested five people for trespassing, failure to disperse and resisting arrest in a downtown protest.
At 2:10 p.m. Monday, APD received a call about a disturbance in front of the Bank of America, located at 68 Patton Ave.
Sgt. Liz Budd arrived to find a small crowd of people holding signs outside the bank to protest its business investments. Bank officials met Sgt. Budd at the door, saying there were people inside who had chained themselves together in the lobby.
Sgt. Budd asked those people what their purpose was and they said they intended to remain chained there until the Bank of America apologized for “funding the coal industry.”
Sgt. Budd repeatedly asked the subjects to leave the property and advised them of the legal ways in which they could continue their protest elsewhere. Bank officials also asked the three to leave, but they refused.
Other protesters began to enter the bank and also refused to leave. Some of them also used bicycle chains to lock themselves together.
Officials from the Asheville Fire Department used bolt cutters to release the subjects for arrest by the APD.
Despite claims in a press release from the group “Climate Convergence,” police officers did not deploy Tasers at any point during the protest, which officers said was otherwise orderly.
The following were charged in Monday's incident:
-- Jacob Elliot Stockwell, birth date 8/8/84, of 15 Sunny Ridge Road, Burnsville
The Buncombe County magistrate advised defendant not to trespass the premises of 68 Patton Ave.
-- George Michael Silva, birth date 4/23/87, of 4 Dundee St., Asheville
Magistrate advised defendant not to trespass on any Bank of America property
-- Alison Gail Self, birth date 3/13/87, 4 Dundee St, Asheville
Magistrate advised defendant not to trespass at 68 Patton Ave
-- Noah Ben Hurowitz, birth date 2/4/90, 123 Clairmont Ave., Arlington Mass.
-- Peter Evan Tsolkas, birth date unknown (subject would not give information), 822 N. Charles St., Lake Worth, Fla.
Read more articles in:News