Responding to protests

October 2, 2020

Chamber members, we’ve heard questions from you about what we’ve been doing in response to the ongoing protests that have occurred downtown.

In a democratic society, people have the right to express their opinions, and that has been happening along all lines of the political spectrum. I expect protests will continue, particularly because we’re not only in a campaign season, but there are important issues—and potential responses– around racial equity that continue to be explored.

Democracy is not always a smooth or pretty process, but it’s a system worth protecting.

The businesses that operate throughout our community represent the many residents who have put their lives’ investments into creating the experiences and services that give our community such character and uniqueness. The viability of these businesses impacts the livelihoods of thousands of workers, as we’ve seen so clearly during the pandemic. And many business owners –even those potentially experiencing damage or disruption from protests–have expressed their support for addressing racial inequities.

We have responded to specific business safety concerns on a couple of fronts.  We pulled together a group of downtown business owners as well as the representatives from a variety of partnering business organizations to meet with a representative of the Asheville Police.  We learned about how to respond to protestors without escalating tensions. We also learned what is legal and illegal on the part of protestors so that business people can train frontline staff on the appropriate response. Should you need, you can download the meeting notes.

We also asked the police if they could share with downtown businesses any knowledge about potential protests which could impact them. As a result, the police have begun sending notices about those protests they learn of in advance.

You can sign up for AVL Alerts to get both emergency and non-emergency communications by phone, text or email for up to five locations in Asheville city limits. For example, employees can sign up for alerts related to their workplace. Sign up at

An unintended consequence of the City’s recent protest alerts has been that social media sharing of the potential protests—which sometimes don’t occur at all—has made some residents and visitors feel downtown is unsafe.

We don’t need to spread fear and consternation. Protests have largely been peaceful. And we need to ensure that we don’t escalate the situation. Business owners have the right to protect their businesses from collateral damage and can do so with proper training of staff and knowing what to do should protestors enter their businesses.

In late October, Chamber leadership will convene with City, law enforcement and Black Asheville Demand leaders to learn more about proposals around police funding. From that conversation, we’ll distill that conversation to keep you informed. We want the process to be deliberate and thoughtful, not political.

We can support people expressing their passionate views as well as those conducting business for which they are passionate. The two are not mutually exclusive. Do your part by spreading encouragement and peace.