Asheville: Policing Must Change!

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Policing, as we know it in America, was created to protect the property of slaveholders. Slaves’ movement and behavior had to be controlled to prevent loss – that control was enforced in the most brutal fashion. The beginning can be traced back to those Slave Patrols and Night Watches - the two institutional entities that evolved into what became modern police. From the landing of Africans in English Colonial America, on to two indentured servants - one Black and one White - running away, and when caught the Black man being sentenced to a life of servitude, to the first Black man legally designated a slave-for-life, to laws condemning the children of slave mothers into a life of slavery, to the Slave Codes, to the promise of freedom if a slave fought on the side of the British during the Revolutionary War, to manumission after the Revolution of numerous slaves, to the Fugitive Slave Act, to the invention of the cotton gin making cotton king, to emancipation, to convict leasing, on to Sundown Towns, through Jim Crow, through the era of the Harlem Renaissance of Black Arts, to separate but equal, to the fight for Civil Rights and Voting rights, to the War on Drugs - right up to this very moment, laws have been created to criminalize the movement and behavior of Black people AND police have always been a part of the harsh enforcement of those laws created by and for White people.


Black people are regularly criminalized while simply existing as Black in their homes, in their neighborhoods, in their cars, in public parks... walking down the street. And, in spaces perceived to be White by White people. Black people are rarely served or protected by police!


The long history of police brutalizing and dehumanizing Black people led directly to the horrific murder of George Floyd, one of many killings by police of unarmed black men, women and children across the nation. It led directly to the brutal attack by a police officer on a Black man for jaywalking right here in the streets  of Asheville. It led directly to what we’ve seen happening in the streets of cities across America.


With the constancy of racialized violence, police brutality, racial disparities in policing, and in the courts, and the criminal justice systems that have led to mass incarceration, Asheville and every municipality in this country must create a strategic plan to transform and reconfigure police departments as we know them. They must create alternatives to policing. The plan must include goals, timelines, and action steps. Institutional and systemic transformation addressing racist practices must be done.


Compassionate statements from the Chief of Police and other City leaders about how they want to make change are meaningless; we don’t want to hear them anymore! Without strong policy that will SERVE the ENTIRETY of the community, statements and speeches mean nothing. We can talk about equity forever but it’s an empty word without a change in the way resources are divided and distributed in our City’s budget. 

 

The Asheville Police Department’s budget is the largest single item in the City of Asheville General Fund.  For many years, the community has called for City leaders to move funds from the police budget to address racial inequities, the racial wealth and opportunity gaps, police brutality, affordable housing and transportation.


In the recent past, a thousand residents have petitioned City leaders asking for millions from the City budget to be moved in service of the needs of the people, and called for a new way to insure the safety, wholeness, and well-being of each and every person in this City.  The APD currently has a $29.6 million budget. Shifting significant funds from that budget toward funding action steps and goals in a strategic plan could quickly create viable alternatives to much of the current work of the police. 


The most effective way to get to a budget that works is to do a line-by-line review of it. This is where we’ll find the additional funds to support what the people are calling for.


APD has a difficult time recruiting and retaining officers of color. That speaks volumes about folks wanting to do the work, and to do the work here in Asheville.


Based on the data on police response to calls, it’s not a great deal that community needs law enforcement for. In study after study it’s clear that the choice to resource punitive systems instead of stabilizing and nourishing ones does not make communities safer. Instead those studies show that a living wage, access to holistic health services and treatment, educational opportunity, and stable affordable housing is far more successful in reducing crime than police or prisons


With that said it makes sense to freeze hiring and let natural attrition take place. There is no reason to continue funding the department for positions they cannot fill.


A serious strategic plan could look like creating a new City department of peace and well-being tasked with the care and safety of people and communities.  Under this new department, there could be new roles to support the peace of the City and the well-being of its residents; unarmed support teams could be dispatched at a moments notice:

A team of social workers, counselors, mediators/negotiators could be hired to be dispatched where needed to support individuals and families 
A team trained in domestic violence could be dispatched to homes as needed 
Neighborhood leaders could be hired and trained to be peer support mediators  
People assigned to handle the flow and safety of traffic
People to uphold human and civil rights in housing, employment, etc.  
Services for healing stress and trauma
Of note is that it takes about 4.5 to 5 months to train new recruits to be police officer. In that time alternative roles and/or teams can be trained as well. This means there is no reason for the process to be drawn out for much longer than 6 months or so
Allocating funds toward investment in current and incubation of African American and Latinx owned businesses, equitable economic and educational opportunities, living wage jobs, affordable housing, transportation, poverty remediation alleviate the root causes of crime

We call for our city leaders to make policy and budgetary commitments to back up their words in this hour. We call on them to be transparent in every single aspect of this work and to make it public. This is true equity and racial healing.  We invite readers to join us in calling on our City leaders to commit prior to the proposed community engagement process to divest from policing and invest in the community with a target of a 50 percent reduction in the police budget.  They should further commit to creating a strategic plan with a firm timeline with the community via the community engagement sessions focusing on particularly hearing from the black community and other communities facing over policing including Latinx, housing communities, and people experiencing homelessness! We call on them to create viable alternatives to policing and to allocate funds to begin resourcing action steps in this plan. Email our City Council members: AshevilleNCCouncil@ashevillenc.gov

Share the petition https://www.change.org/policingalternativesavl

We must have a clear, intentional, resourced plan.  If not now, when?

We must have a clear, intentional, resourced plan.  If not now, when?  So many in our City are suffering under the COVID-19 pandemic; some have lost loved ones, some have lost homes and jobs, AND over the course of the last 400 years, while African Americans have continued to deal with the ravages of racism, it is NOW the time for City leaders to take bold steps to end the legacy of racism and white supremacy. Our City must answer the call of the people and move to ACTION! Our City must move from talking about it to BEING about it!