Activists, faith leaders, officers address Asheville city council


Residents took demands for change straight to city leaders during Tuesday’s Asheville City Council meeting. 

People spoke for almost three hours during the public comment portion of the meeting.

Body camera footage first leaked to the Asheville Citizen Times shows former Asheville police officer Chris Hickman beating Johnnie Rush, a black man accused of jaywalking in August 2017.

“We continue to see systematic racism showing up in our policing here in Asheville,” said Racial Justice Coalition’s James Lee during the meeting. 

The Racial Justice Coalition includes representatives of organizations in Asheville and Buncombe County dedicated to racial justice.

“There’s a need for strong measures of accountability,” said Racial Justice Coalition’s Gerry Leonard. The group includes 14 organizations and made a number of recommendations to council, including better oversight of the police force by citizens, to investigate each use of force matter as a criminal case, and an improved complaint process.  “There needs to be increased accessibility for informing citizens of how and when they can access the complaint process. Perception is reality and the current perception is law enforcement cannot be trusted for our community.”

Speakers included several faith based organizations and local activists. There was an overflow room because the council chambers didn’t have more space. 

Sharon Smith with Asheville Black Lives Matter said it was not enough for the former officer to now be charged and the cases he handled dismissed. 

“It goes all the way up to the top,” said Smith. “There was collusion involved involving the mayor, the district attorney, the police chief.”

As during the Citizens Police Advisory Committee meeting last week when Asheville Police Chief Tammy Hooper said she’d resign if it would fix the problems, there were more calls Tuesday for people in power to step down or be fired. 

Two Asheville Police officers also spoke out for themselves and their colleagues, condemning Hickman’s actions and asking for support from city leaders. 

“You have prejudged officers as a whole and we are not a whole with Hickman,” said Officer Danielle Loveland. 

Ian Mance shared a report on APD’s policing on behalf of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, which is based in Durham. 

“Since I was here last year, the search rate for black motorists in the city of Asheville have doubled from 2016 to 2017,” said Mance, who added that 11% of black motorists were searched in Asheville which is the highest in the state of North Carolina. 

Mayor Esther Manheimer said the meeting was an opportunity for council to directly hear concerns from the community to see what action city leaders need to take going forward. 

The city council has called for an audit of APD “to determine the degree to which structural racism and implicit and explicit bias continue to contribute to the operations and actions of the department and its officers.”

Asheville Black Lives Matter is calling for an economic boycott of Asheville until city leaders enact change. 

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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