Year in Review: Security felt elusive in 2021

Asheville Police Department protest
ON THE STREETS: The Asheville Police Department has grappled both with critiques of law enforcement and accusations that the department is not tough enough on crime. Photo by Brooke Randle

When Xpress asked community members about safety and security in 2021, the questions were intentionally left very broad. After all, concepts like safety and risk can mean very different things to different people depending on their circumstances.

Would respondents opine about public safety? Housing security? Financial security? Sexual assault? Homophobia? The resulting responses take the temperature of the community and demonstrate a wide range of priorities on residents’ minds and hearts.

Feeling protected from COVID-19 was mentioned frequently, both in terms of individuals receiving vaccinations and the community coming together to address the virus, and some respondents viewed the risks of the pandemic as more than just to physical safety. Folks also had thoughtful responses about how reactions to this virus have changed everyone’s lives; for some people, putting life on pause created opportunities for reflection about family, friendships and work.

Many community members cited racism — specifically white supremacist culture — as causing them to feel unsafe. Asheville was host to numerous racial justice protests in 2020, and some in the community continued to address systemic racism in 2021. But among all of the Year in Review responses in this issue, those about racism were some of the least hopeful.

Other respondents interpreted Xpress‘ questions more individualistically. They remarked about feeling strength and security amid their families and their desires to leave a legacy for future generations.

What in 2021 makes you feel safer or more secure than 2020? 

“Seeing our community mobilize together to address COVID-19 made me feel more secure in 2021.” — Claire Hubbard, community paramedic program manager, Buncombe County

“Even though it is really a false sense of security, being fully vaccinated and now having the Pfizer booster gives me a sense of some safety in the public arena in 2021. But I have also found that being in spaces where people are distancing and masking feels more reassuring, whether other folks are vaccinated or not.” — Rev. Tami Forte Logan, founder, Faith 4 Justice Asheville

“My family has gone through a lot in the last two years, but we are so much stronger as a unit. That makes me feel secure.” — Trey Adcock, executive director, Center for Native Health

“I feel like 2020 knocked us down, and 2021 helped us build resilience to get back up again. This year, we had to realize there is no ‘going back to normal, and adapting to the new normal of wearing masks, thinking about the safety of others and often working from home has not all been bad.” — Shannon Cornelius, health justice program director, Pisgah Legal Services

What in 2021 makes you feel less safe or secure than 2020?

“As a first responder, it makes me feel less secure to have fewer and fewer options, particularly after hours, to support the growing population of people who are displaced, unhoused or struggling to survive and in need of basic resources in Buncombe County.” — Claire Hubbard 

“The potential for domestic white-supremacist-based terrorism supported by politics that care more about power than people.” — Trey Adcock 

“As a Black woman in America, I am not sure if I ever feel fully safe in a country actively practicing white supremacy in each and every institution and system that exists. Even though it appears that a combination of the COVID-19 pandemic and global protest has heightened our white siblings’ awareness and acknowledgement of structural racism and anti-Blackness, supremacy culture persists.” — Rev. Tami Forte Logan 

As you assess the risks in your life, what do you feel are the greatest ones and why? 

“The greatest risk I have is not taking advantage of the hard but critical lessons learned from COVID-19: Make more time for myself away from work to spend with family and friends, having fun. Keeping focused on responsibilities of providing a nurturing, fair, positive workplace. Appreciating how amazing our little city is — not that it’s perfect, but I wouldn’t want to live or work anywhere else. This town is magic.” — Mike Rangel, president, Asheville Pizza & Brewing Co.

“The biggest risk in my life now is the negative effects that the vast amount of bad information (misinformation) that is being proliferated across social/traditional media is having on people’s/politicians’ decision-making and critical thinking abilities. The influx of bad information is leading policymakers to offer solutions to problems that don’t exist, such as passing legislation to reduce nonexistent voter fraud, which is making it more difficult for people of color like me to vote.” — JP Chalarca, founder, WECAN Man

“As a person with a preexisting condition, but in the coffee business, I am concerned about health and safety. Considering our business is located in a gentrified area, I am concerned about BIPOC [Black, Indigenous and People of color] inclusion in economic growth and development. Everything is on the line, but I think that’s life. We are going all in with the belief that we can honor history and build together as a community. It’s worth it. Our ancestors are depending on it.” — J Hackett, founder, Black Wall Street AVL

How has your perception of law enforcement changed in 2021?

“They proved that if they can’t be arrogant bullies and have to be held accountable for their actions, they quit.” — Cliff B. Worsham, musician

“My perception of law enforcement has not changed at all.” — Keynon Lake, executive director, My Daddy Taught Me That

“It looks like there are pockets of law enforcement departments across the country who are trying to filter 911 calls and refer as needed to mental health professionals who can respond with care, compassion and relevant skills. This prevents police from responding with force against people whose condition they don’t understand, and that is somewhat encouraging but it is not pervasive enough. And it is hard to imagine that an institution that originated as slave patrols during Reconstruction, assigned to control Black bodies, can transform in a few hundred years without major structural changes. It is clear that the old guard is tightly clinging to its past.” — Rev. Tami Forte Logan 

“The pandemic made clear that 75% of the country is living paycheck to paycheck. We have neighborhoods, communities and regions that have fallen into systemic poverty. This leads to higher levels of anxiety, depression, self-medication, black market economy, higher levels of incarceration and broken families. We have a country that was pumped full of opioids by the pharmaceutical companies for 20 years, and then that supply was cut off. Now we have prisons being the primary mental health provider in each state; we have mass incarceration and prisons for profit. Law enforcement is part of this overwhelmed, broken system, and that hasn’t changed in 2021.” — JP Kennedy, co-founder, Musicians for Overdose Prevention

“What I see now in the law enforcement industry is an openness to change that I have not seen before — officers recognizing that there are situations where others can provide a better response, that their skills are not always the right ones for every situation. Local governments are leading the change, and officers seem willing, even eager, to make it work. The General Assembly also passed important criminal justice reform measures this year. There is so much more to do, but we’ve taken important steps forward.” — Sen. Julie Mayfield, N.C. Senate District 49


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About Jessica Wakeman
Jessica Wakeman is an Asheville-based reporter for Mountain Xpress. She has been published in Rolling Stone, Glamour, New York magazine's The Cut, Bustle and many other publications. She was raised in Connecticut and holds a Bachelor's degree in journalism from New York University. Follow me @jessicawakeman

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