RALEIGH, N.C. - The ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation has filed a complaint against the City of Asheville, contending that park bans issued against community members and the administrative policy that authorizes these bans are unconstitutional. The 14 plaintiffs in this case are individuals who regularly volunteered their time and efforts to provide food, supplies, and vital support to unhoused people in Asheville. They were banned from parks after they were charged with felony littering while participating in peaceful demonstration to protest the City’s treatment of unhoused people.  The protests and gatherings involved demonstrations where Plaintiffs and other community members came together to distribute mutual aid, create art, and to demand that the City provide resources and shelter for unhoused people.

The lawsuit alleges that the Park Ban Policy and the bans issued to Plaintiffs violate their due process rights by taking away their access to public parks and their ability to conduct their job responsibilities without meaningful notice or hearing. The bans also impinge on Plaintiffs’ exercise of their First Amendment right to assembly. Under the policy, city officials can arbitrarily ban individuals from city parks based on unproven allegations that individuals have committed a crime or violated park rules. The park ban policy does not require any documentation of the alleged violation for a ban to be issued, and it does not require that individuals banned from public parks receive notice of the ban. APD issued three-year bans to Plaintiffs without proper, and in some cases any notice. Plaintiffs who appealed their bans had their bans summarily upheld by the Director of Asheville Parks and Recreation, D. Tyrell McGirt, who is also named as a Defendant in this lawsuit.  These bans have impacted Plaintiffs’ ability to access public spaces in Asheville to engage in protest, carry out job and family responsibilities, and continue their volunteer work for unhoused populations in Asheville.

Sarah Norris, a plaintiff in the case, issued the following statement:

"While these park bans have impacted us in individual, personal ways, creating problems for our jobs and families, the bigger issue is that the city's policies allow people with power to restrict the rights of those they perceive as challenging their power. It happened to us this time, but it could happen to anyone who inconveniences the city's narrative of itself, and we are working to make sure no one else can be targeted this way”

The bans have inhibited the plaintiffs’ ability to distribute food and supplies, and to provide aid, by necessitating that they avoid parks and relocate their support efforts to locations that are significantly less convenient for serving and interacting with unhoused people.

Furthermore, Pip Flickinger, a plaintiff in the case, reflects upon a startling fact that emerged when examining the list of banned individuals, “Almost everyone on the list is someone known to me as living on the streets, or banned for advocating for those on the streets. It continues to bring forth the question; who is public space for?”

“The City has taken away Plaintiffs’ access to all city parks, zoos, public pools, and several other community spaces without providing meaningful notice and hearing. This policy and these bans are clearly unconstitutional.” said Muneeba S. Talukder, Staff Attorney at the ACLU of North Carolina. “For over a year now, these bans have severely impacted our plaintiff’s abilities to do the work they are committed to and supporting all of Asheville’s community members, including those who are unhoused. Plaintiffs are volunteers and advocates, but they are also parents, partners, educators, and students—they are important members of a vibrant community and they deserve access to the spaces that they have so tirelessly advocated in and for.”

Like many other cities, Asheville has experienced rising costs of living that have exacerbated an affordable housing crisis for the city’s residents.

The ACLU of NC now awaits a response from the City of Asheville.