Business owners and workers in a Democrat-run North Carolina tourist town said their downtown district is deteriorating amid rising crime, rampant homelessness and diminishing police.
Multiple people who work in downtown Asheville, North Carolina, bemoaned the condition of the city and pinpointed a lack of police presence to its decline, according to an investigation by local outlet Asheville Watchdog.
“We really need beat cops, police on bicycles,” Rose Garfinkle, who lives and works downtown, told the outlet. “The lack of a police presence is noticeable. Things have taken a turn in the last five years.”
Violent crime has spiked in the historic mountain town during recent years amid an influx of people moving in from out of state. Violent crime in Asheville per 100,000 people increased 31% between 2016 and 2020 – nearly double the national average and 18 percentage points higher than North Carolina’s 13% increase statewide during the same period.
According to statistics released by APD in September, such trends have continued to rise 34% year-to-date compared to 2021 and 29% over 2020. The department noted that aggravated assaults are mostly responsible for the increase.
Asheville Police Department Chief David Zack told Fox News Digital last fall that his department is straining to operate at 42% down every day after losing more than 100 sworn officers since summer 2020, when tear gas-choked protests against police snarled downtown for days. Break-ins saw a 200% monthly surge in January, according to local ABC affiliate WLOS.
Only two officers now patrol downtown each night, according to Asheville Watchdog. Sophia Deck, who manages a store, told the outlet that business owners are “completely on our own” in the city. Several downtown business owners noted a sharp increase in belligerent customers and lawless behavior that has caused their employees to fear for their safety.
Managers at Urban Outfitters, which is adjacent to a downtown park known as a hub for the homeless, have been logging ongoing incidents to send to their corporate office in a plea to hire private security.
According to a list of the incidents, a mentally ill person repeatedly entered the store up to 20 times per day and yelled after putting on products and dancing. A known shoplifter who daily attempted to enter the store once followed a manager to their car.
Another person reportedly tried to steal a bottle of nail polish and proceeded to paint all over the fitting room before vomiting in the store, and another individual urinated in front of the cash registers.
Management also encountered a homeless person who defecated in front of the store multiple times. Homeless were also camping in front of the store regularly, and one became aggressive, kicking things and brandishing a weapon that resembled a table leg.
Trash, needles and blankets caked with human excrement have also been repeatedly strewn in front of the business.
Victoria “Vic” Isley, who serves as president and CEO of Explore Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau, told the outlet that the increasing incidents “are really disturbing and concerning,” and are spreading to other parts of the city outside downtown.
Those who complain about the state of the liberal tourist town reportedly face accusations of being conservatives.
“I think that there is this sort of unfounded fear that by speaking out about the downtown situation, they would become somehow less progressive,” Cali Skye, who works downtown, said of city leaders. “As far as I’m concerned, holding public servants accountable and encouraging third-party/civilian oversight in government institutions is as progressive as it gets.”
Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer, a Democrat, told the outlet that the state of downtown “has been a topic of a great deal of communication” and that its cleanliness and safety remain a topic of concern to her.
“I’ve been in Asheville since 1988,” Manheimer said. “I know that it has ebbed and flowed over the years, and I would definitely say it has been in better shape prior to now. And we’re working hard to try to get it back.”
Reporting from Fox News.