Asheville City Council member Vijay Kapoor has staked out his position on the emerging controversy about Council’s latest moves on policing. In a statement dated May 29, he explained his concerns over the process by which fellow Council member Keith Young introduced three motions directing Interim City Manager Cathy Ball to implement changes in the Asheville Police Department’s consent search and traffic stop policies. Kapoor also listed a number of questions he’d like to see answered before taking a stance toward the substance of Young’s motions.
Citing Young’s failure to put the proposed changes on Council’s agenda for the May 22 meeting and his parliamentary motion to call the question, thereby circumventing public comment on the vote, Kapoor criticized Council for its lack of transparency and due process. “This lack of basic democratic process is the same thing that many of us on Council decry Congress and the North Carolina General Assembly for doing where bills are not fully considered and surprise agenda items abound,” Kapoor wrote. He voted against the measures, as did Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler, with the remaining members of Council voting in favor.
In the letter, Kapoor wrote that he will ask Council to “reconsider” its actions at the upcoming meeting on Tuesday, June 19. Speaking with Xpress, he clarified that he’ll be calling for the motions to be rescinded and their substance explored through the normal committee process. “I’m not talking about putting this away forever,” Kapoor said. “I’m just talking about having us, in my view, do what we would normally do on an issue that’s as significant as this one.”
Kapoor’s letter posed multiple questions to be resolved before he makes up his mind on the search policy changes. Many of these queries, including “Are African-Americans searched by police disproportionately in Asheville?” and “Does implementing written consent have any impact on the racial composition of searches?” were addressed in back-to-back presentations at the May 22 meeting by Ian A. Mance, staff attorney with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, and Chief Tammy Hooper of the APD.
However, Kapoor countered that the combative nature of those presentations did not help resolve Council’s understanding of the topic. “It’s like a Lincoln-Douglas debate: I say this, you say that,” he told Xpress. “Can we sit down, get this stuff synthesized, and see if we can figure out where people really are and where the differences are? That certainly hasn’t occurred.”
Young did not respond to multiple requests for comment on his motions or Kapoor’s letter.
Wisler, who joined Kapoor in voting against Young’s motions, said it was too early for her to take a position on rescinding the moves. Although she believed Council’s previous vote to be “procedurally incorrect,” she said she’d wait to see Kapoor’s proposals before choosing whether to support them.
“I don’t know procedurally how we’re going to reverse what was done,” Wisler said. “And I think just from a practical matter, I’m not sure the vote’s going to change.”
Wisler did mirror Kapoor’s concerns about the conflicting information presented by Mance and Hooper. “I obviously am not supportive of any sort of racial profiling, but I also respect the chief a lot and respect her opinion,” she said. “I just don’t understand the discrepancies between the two sets of data.”
The debate over the motions is unfolding against the backdrop of a letter by the N.C. Police Benevolent Association, dated May 25. NCPBA Executive Director John C. Midgette wrote that “Councilmember Young’s directives in an open Council meeting to the Asheville city manager and police chief may also have violated policy, procedure and law” and hinted at possible legal action to come.
“We respectfully request you take measures to rescind the Council’s troubling decision of May 22, 2018 and allow PBA representatives the opportunity to more fully provide our thoughts and concerns to you,” Midgette wrote. “We certainly prefer the opportunity to resolve these matters with you rather than exploring other measures available to us.”