The UNCA and Western North Carolina branches of the ACLU presented a forum entitled, “Your Right to Dissent.” It was held at the university.

In his opening remarks, panelist Bob Oast, attorney for the City of Asheville, encouraged persons desiring to protest to share their plans with the city. “We’re professional event planners,” he stated, adding that the city can even rent sound systems. Asheville Police Chief Bill Hogan said it was his responsibility to ensure public safety. He told of an African-American police officer protecting the KKK’s right to protest. He explained how it is not easy to work between protests and counter-protests to make sure nobody gets hurt.

Panelist Kati Ketz of the Students for a Democratic Society (formerly the Socialist Unity League) told how the Portland branch of that group has blockaded shipments of arms to Iraq. If the War in Iraq didn’t end soon, civil disobedience will have to escalate. Panelist Clare Hanrahan got a standing-O for speaking passionately against the War in Iraq. Cheney and Bush were demonstrating violent disobedience and criminal behavior, and the cure was impeachment. She kept repeating, “We who dissent are not the terrorists.” Blackwater, Halliburton, weapons manufacturers, and others in the military industrial complex were. Nobody asked for equal time, but a John Locke Foundation blogger who had been standing in the back of the room sat on the floor for the duration of the standing-O.

Many found the police responses to questions about training inadequate. Stewart David said he makes a practice of carrying around a copy of applicable ordinances when he protests, and doesn’t think he should have to read the law to the police officers. He also recalled a time when the whole country was a free speech zone. Buncombe County Sheriff Van Duncan responded that there is no way officers are going to know the tens of thousands of applicable laws. They do, however, have an on-call attorney service, which for $14,000 a year is a steal. Hogan said his department has hired sixty new officers in the last two years. They’re still learning.

Randall Pfleger asked why the Convergence for Climate Action activities this year were covered by helicopters and a SWAT team in riot gear, and why he was followed by police. Duncan said it was largely due to intel from CCA’s web site about training for climbing and civil disobedience, and about intentions of jamming the CP&L transformer. Hogan added that depriving people throughout WNC and into Tennessee of electricity in 90-degree weather was a life-and-death public safety issue for the frail elderly. Two of his officers sustained serious injuries removing the protesters from a bank where they had chained themselves together after being asked to leave.

Many showed up to complain about the police giving a man multiple and severe taser burns. Hogan said tasers don’t burn. Another lady complained about the police arresting her son for no reason, shooting holes in the walls, tearing up furniture, etc., etc.