Community blasts proposed APD division

May 31 Asheville racial justice protests
WORDS ON THE STREET: Asheville residents marched onto Interstate 240 during protests for racial justice on May 31. Photo by Nick Levine

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.

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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the Assistant Editor of Mountain Xpress, regularly contributing to coverage of Western North Carolina's government, environment and health care. His work has previously appeared in Capital at Play, Edible Asheville, and the Citizen-Times, among other area publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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13 thoughts on “Community blasts proposed APD division

  1. Enlightened Enigma

    Mayor and Council need to RESIGN, but not for these reasons… Let’s RAISE police salaries for better SAFETY from THUGS !

    • Dopamina

      So lets dig into this logic! The majority of protestors were peaceful but the bad apples, or thugs as you call them, spoil the bunch, is that right?

      Hmmm, can we think of any other group where a few bad apples spoil the bunch? How about you apply your seemingly reflexive logic to police as well? There is irrefutable evidence that some police are abusers but the “good” cops then cover for them – if you choose to believe this isn’t true then you are being willfully ignorant, maybe talk to someone about that…

      If bad apples in the protest group spoil the bunch then don’t bad apples in the police department spoil the bunch?

      I look forward to your coherent and articulate response, bonus points if you work in a slur against Democrats or leftists, haven’t seen you trot out democrackkks in a while..

  2. dyfed

    At what point do we sit down, wait to come down off the protest high, and acknowledge that any literal attempt to abolish or defund our local police is a complete nonstarter?

    • Esteban

      You’re not debating in good faith if you’re using the terms defund and abolish interchangeably.

      • dyfed

        I’m not using them interchangeably, and if I thought they were interchangeable, certainly I would have used one term rather than both.

        The United States is one of very few developed countries to spend more on prisons than police. If anything, our police are underfunded.

        Certainly there would be merit in ideas like reforming or removing qualified immunity, abolishing pretextual victimless crimes such as disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, focusing on deescalation, eliminating civil forfeiture, and other such remedies. But many of these will require more police hires, more training, and greater funding.

        Abolishing or defunding the police is nonsense. Neither will make black people any safer. Neither will lessen crime. They are wedge slogans that serve to kill any serious reform movement’s momentum. They are the favorite toy propositions of anarchic fantasies that drive off anyone who’s ever had to call the police. And so long as this nonsense remains the headline, sucking up all the oxygen in the room, over less sexy but more practical reforms, count on nothing important changing.

        But it seems typical that rather than actually talking about structural reforms, the great comment is yet more quibbling about how good the slogan is rather than admitting the slogan is not a solution.

        • bsummers

          “The United States is one of very few developed countries to spend more on prisons than police.”

          That’s only because we spend too much on prisons. The US spends way more on incarcerating people than educating them. That’s unsustainable. That’s a sign of a society in decline. Spending more on police isn’t the answer. Diverting some of that money into programs that will help keep people out of the system is simply smart business.

          • dyfed

            I disagree. First your data is wrong. It’s not because we spend so much money on prisons; we simply employ a ludicrously small number of police per capita, especially given how heterogeneous and large our population is. There literally aren’t enough police on the ground to deal with the catastrophic levels of violence and crime in many areas to begin with. In many places they’re so underfunded that they have round the year 10-16 hour shifts, which I’m sure helps them make great decisions under pressure.

            Reallocating police resources is a fine idea. So is additional training, deescalation, and adding more police. Literally taking them off the streets and hoping that there will be fewer shootings in Pisgah View is the worst kind of disregard for the safety of our poorest communities.

          • luther blissett

            “There literally aren’t enough police on the ground to deal with the catastrophic levels of violence and crime in many areas to begin with.”

            “Catastrophic?” If we’re talking specifically about Asheville, urban cops spend a huge amount of their time looking for expired tags or broken tail lights in certain neighborhoods or handling fender benders. The propaganda of the thin blue line and the implicit premise that “we” need “them” to be policed is corrosive.

            People have been calling for “reform” for years and gotten nowhere. QI has been expanded to the point where courts assume cops to have zero agency — if they’re not explicitly told they can’t do X they can’t be liable when they do X. Bad cops either get reassigned or find jobs in other PDs. Even good cops are increasingly commuters who only experience the communities they police when in uniform. The training model is broken.

            I think Alex Pareene’s piece linked below takes the right approach. Policing is a social function, and the police are members of society who are paid to give their full-time attention to that function. (The Peelian principles of policing have only ever applied loosely in the US, and that needs to change.) Define the social function of policing and then you can work out whether the institutions already granted those powers and a huge chunk of public money are capable of carrying it out.

            https://newrepublic.com/article/158210/abolish-police-departments

        • bsummers

          My “data” is wrong? You mean you don’t like my conclusions.

          The United States has the most people in prison and the highest incarceration rate in the world. The only country that even comes close in the number of people in prison is China. YAY! We’re Number One! USA! USA!

          It’s grotesque. Such a massive waste of resources.
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_incarceration_rate

          BLM has a great point that there needs to be massive reforms to policing in this country. Denying that is choosing to ignore the George Floyd police-murder-with-impunity, or the Wilmington police scandal from a few days ago:

          Jesse E. Moore II refers to a Black woman he arrested as a “negro” and “n—-r” as well as a “crazy b—h” several times. He then states, “she needed a bullet in her head right then and move on. Let’s move the body out of the way and keep going,” which Piner responds to by saying, “that’s what I’ve been trying to tell you.”

          Piner said he is “ready” for the civil war and martial law he believes is coming, saying, “we are just gonna go out and start slaughtering them f—–g n—-rs. I can’t wait. God I can’t wait.” Piner said a civil war is needed to “wipe ’em off the f—–g map. That’ll put ’em back about four or five generations.” He also noted he planned to buy an assault rifle in the next couple of weeks.
          https://www.starnewsonline.com/news/20200625/wilmington-police-firings-racist-words-copsrsquo-excuses

          These are police officers caught on tape talking about “slaughtering” black people. And don’t give the “few bad apples” excuse. I know there are decent human beings in the police forces. But when they allow the racists and murderers among them carry on with impunity (as they do, constantly), something’s gotta change.

          • dyfed

            No, your data is wrong. You said and I quote, “ That’s only because we spend too much on prisons.”

            We do spend too much on prisons, but we also don’t spend nearly enough on police, and the one of the reasons we spend so much on prisons is because we don’t have enough police on the ground to prevent crime before it occurs. Again, pay attention to the actual data: among developed countries we are ludicrously low in number of police per capita.

            The best method of crime prevention is not draconian punishment and mandatory minimums, but increasing the certainty that criminals are found and punished quickly, even if individual sentences are not long. You’re so busy repeating BLM talking points that you can’t even see that I’m arguing for serious structural reform. And that’s why movements that get caught up in dumb slogans rather than data-based interventions fail.

          • bsummers

            We’re both stating our opinions. Difference with you, you think yours is fact. Oh, if it were only so…

            And no, I’m not repeating anyone’s talking points. I’ve been these things since long before BLM existed, as one of Asheville Justice Watch 17 years ago.
            http://www.main.nc.us/spotlights/policevideo.shtml

    • Dopamina

      Here’s the thing: if a small demand for reform was made then odds are good that small reform would be watered down if it were ever to become law.

      If the request is to defund police, odds are good if that concept catches on it will be watered down but ideally would still result in some pretty significant reforms.

      Its kind of like haggling: if I want $50 for something and I only mark it up to $55, then someone might try to haggle me down to $45; but if I say I want $70, then I’m much more likely to walk away with $50.

      The problem is, if you make your initial price too high then no one will want to haggle with you in the first place…

      Interesting time we are living through!

      • dyfed

        Double-edged sword. If you set your demand at a ridiculous level, asking for something that nobody cares to give, then a lot of people aren’t even going to negotiate. They’re going to walk on by.

        Beyond which, the idea that so many ‘thought leaders’ have that this isn’t a ‘literal’ demand is just like Trumpism. “Oh he’s not serious, oh he doesn’t really mean that.” Beware the politics of innuendo. Someone may actually believe you!

        Even your own side might believe you: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/12/opinion/sunday/floyd-abolish-defund-police.html

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