David Zack thinks he knows what’s wrong with the Asheville Police Department. “It’s really the Achilles’ heel of this organization right now that there is no infrastructure whatsoever — formal infrastructure — to hear from the community and to have their involvement at all levels,” said the APD’s chief at a June 25 remote meeting of Asheville City Council’s Public Safety Committee.
To that end, Zack had proposed the establishment of a new community engagement division within the APD as part of a 90-day plan to restructure the department. “Its sole purpose is to have the ear to actually implement and hear the concerns of the community,” he explained.
While no staffing assignments have yet been made, Zack said he would move forward with his plan “as long as there’s no additional concerns with the creation of that division.” During an hour of public comment including over 20 speakers, Asheville residents clarified that they did have many additional concerns.
Several commenters, including North Asheville resident Katie Hudson, argued that Zack should have heard the community during local demonstrations that followed the police killing of Black Minneapolis resident George Floyd on May 25. There may be no formal avenue for public feedback to the APD, she said, but protesters have sent a clear message.
“We’ve taken to the streets to tell you what we need,” Hudson said. “It smacks of irony and disrespect to come forward with a proposal that you’re going to listen to people when we are actively telling you what we want right now.”
Other speakers said creating new responsibilities for the APD ran counter to the thousands of comments City Council has received asking Asheville officials to defund the police. As described on the website of Black AVL Demands, a self-described “intergenerational collective of Black leaders” that has yet to publicly announce its organizers, activists want 50% of the police’s roughly $30 million annual budget redirected to support community programs.
“We’re not calling the police anymore, so we need to create new systems,” said Nettie Fisher, who identified herself as an Asheville native. “The community engagement division, and those individuals responding to mental health issues, should not be housed within APD, and that is nonnegotiable.”
And Cassidy Doyle of Arden said she could not trust the police after an officer shot her in the face at point-blank range with a less lethal projectile while she was peacefully protesting in early June. Doyle claimed that she suffered a fracture, bleeding and air bubbles in her skull and continues to feel the effects of the injury nearly a month later.
“We’re beyond reform, and it is time to defund,” Doyle said. “Zack and [Asheville Mayor] Esther [Manheimer], please resign.”
Earlier in the meeting, Zack had said that the APD had received “no formal complaints from any individuals regarding excessive use of force” during the protests. Following Doyle’s comment, Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler urged anyone injured by the police to file a report.