Residents exercising First Amendment rights unjustly banned from city parks after participation in peaceful demonstration.
RALEIGH – The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina sent a letter to the City of Asheville's Director of Parks and Recreation, City Manager, City Attorney, Deputy City Attorney, and Chief of Police challenging an unconstitutional park ban policy that restricts 14 individuals’ access to city parks. The individuals were banned from parks after they were charged with felony littering while engaging in a peaceful demonstration at Aston Park. The demonstration, held in December 2021, was organized to protest the unjust treatment of unhoused people, and participants distributed tents, coffee, diapers, furniture, cleaning supplies, and books. Felony littering is an extremely rare charge, and several of those charged have been banned from public parks for three years.
“Our clients were issued park bans after their participation in protests and demonstrations held at Aston park,” said Muneeba Talukder, staff attorney for ACLU of North Carolina. “The City’s restriction of their access to public space is clearly a punitive response to these individuals’ exercise of their First Amendment right to assembly. Several of our clients were not given notice of the park ban and effectively were not provided with any process to appeal the bans.”
Notice of the ban to demonstrators was, in some cases, unclear and, in others, non-existent. Some of the demonstrators have yet to receive official notice of these bans and only realized they were banned after further discovery into their felony littering cases. Due to the inadequate process of issuing ban notifications, the demonstrators did not have the opportunity to contest the ban, which is a fundamental constitutional procedural protection.
“To me, part of living in a community is taking care of it, and we all have not just a right to peacefully demonstrate but a responsibility to do so when our city isn’t caring for those who live here,” said Sarah Norris, a community member who was banned from Asheville parks. “As a parent, it is heartbreaking that I can’t walk with my child in our beautiful parks, nor participate in the community care that happens there, because my constitutional rights were taken away.”
The ACLU of NC is asking for Asheville city officials to retract the residents’ park bans, revise its Park Ban Policy to ensure that the U.S. and North Carolina constitutions are being upheld, and provide training to the Asheville Police Department and all Parks and Rec staff regarding the issuance and enforcement of park bans.