J Hackett on wounds old and new

IS ANYBODY LISTENING? When J Hackett learned of George Floyd’s agonizing death at the hands of fired Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, he wondered whether all the time he’s spent in meetings pushing for reform has really made a difference. Photo courtesy of Hackett

J Hackett, the former executive director of the nonprofit Green Opportunities and now the pastor of New Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church, has confronted the legacy and ongoing reality of systemic racism in Asheville for over 20 years. He sits on the community engagement committee of Buncombe County’s Safety and Justice Challenge, an initiative to reduce the county’s jail population. The two-year, $1.75 million effort is funded by The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. 

Hackett spoke with Xpress on June 2 about his experiences as a black community leader during the coronavirus pandemic and, now, the protests and grief experienced locally in response to George Floyd’s death on May 25 at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis. His remarks below have been edited for length and clarity.

COVID-19 has shaken our entire world, but in the black and brown communities, we feel the presence of this pandemic in a disproportionate way. The science already says that people are disproportionately affected. The reality on the streets is that people are having to address fears all over again.

In one conversation, we found that residents in housing authority [neighborhoods] were going outside and congregating. It was not within the protocols that were set. And one community member said, “We finally have the chance to be at home. We live so close together, we’re like family. We’re not mixing with strangers, we’re mixing with what we consider our nuclear family.”

In black and brown communities, we find solidarity in celebrations, in congregating with each other and in playing together — no different than any other family.

And now, George Floyd.

After we figured out how to support each other, how to bridge gaps in resources, how to take care of each other and observe physical distancing, then this thing happens. This white cop murders a black man, and it hits home so much because — and I can only speak for me and my experience — in our communities, we know that the majority of our black men are court-involved.

On boards like the Buncombe County Safety and Justice Challenge, we’re working on systems-level change. We’re applying for national grants and are part of national movements, but while we’re doing this, something else comes. It’s like we’re trying to seal one crack, and another crack opens up.

When does it end? Why is being black such a bad thing? We understand that we’re in a broken system. Asheville is a beautiful place; we have all the pieces, and we’re trying to connect the dots. And while we’re connecting the dots and this happened, it just exposes a cancer in our society. And it’s sad and it’s scary and we cry about it and we fuss about it and we talk about it and we march about it.

George Floyd, it pulls out years of trying — and it’s not working. And for those of us that are on the front line, we are wondering: When we go to these meetings, are people even listening? When we set up these programs, are they even working?

I’m part of a group of black male leaders that are trying to create economic reform for our young people. But as we’re doing that and we’re preparing people to study, be yourself, be professional, look right, sound right, dress right, talk right, etc., we have to wonder: Those are things that we can control, but what about the stuff we cannot control?

George Floyd, he was compliant. He was doing what he was asked to do. And that still wasn’t enough?

I was raised by a single mom, and part of my upbringing was about how the society sees you as a black man. We have a whole different set of rules on how we’re supposed to interact. How to, when to, why to express our blackness — and when we’re supposed to conceal it.

I’m a parent to a black son, and I have to talk to him about how he’s perceived. That doesn’t feel good, to have to just tell him: This is how the world is.

I was reminded on Sunday of Emmett Till. Maybe the brutality was not exactly the same, but for years and years and years, black people have been being killed at the hands of white people, and we say it’s illegal, but so often the officers don’t even get charged. We have, even in our community, Johnnie Rush, who was beaten. Thank God he wasn’t killed. But who’s to say it couldn’t happen in Asheville?

These things create tension. On one side of that tension is solidarity. Black and brown people, our communities, our allies, are coming together to support each other. On the other side, there is the very real fear.

We appreciate the white allies that come and walk with us and use their privilege to say, “Do not do this to our neighbors.” That feels good. And we know that, if the community is going to change, it requires everybody.

But we need that to translate into a system change: What is Buncombe County going to do in response? What are our significant senior leaders going to do in response? What’s going to happen in response to this?

Do not just let us march and nothing happens. What are you willing to do? What resources are going to be reallocated?

Policing is how our black people enter into the system. We would like for police to look at us differently. With the Safety and Justice Challenge Grant, we have been challenging some of the reasons that people are getting citations and tickets.

We do have the right pieces, but we have to translate it. And there are a few power brokers in the city and county that are just holding the keys and keeping the door closed. It’s only a few, and we’re advocating for that to change.

It’s a vicious cycle. Sadly, we’ve lived it all of our lives. And then this George Floyd thing happens, and it’s like it throws us back in time.

It’s trauma, and not just for people of color. It’s also the trauma that’s experienced by white people. As they experience their privilege and they see people that they care about, they realize: I don’t live that same life, but I care. There’s a way to address it together.

This article is part of COVID Conversations, a series of short features based on interviews with members of our community during the coronavirus pandemic in Western North Carolina. If you or someone you know has a unique story you think should be featured in a future issue of Xpress, please let us know at news@mountainx.com.


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16 thoughts on “J Hackett on wounds old and new

  1. T Haislip

    “in our communities, we know that the majority of our black men are court-involved.”
    “Policing is how our black people enter into the system. We would like for police to look at us differently. ”
    Table 12: https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/cv18.pdf
    Table 14 indicates White people are the victims of *black people* at a higher rate than black people are the victims of white people…

    Growing up in a Black community – if you deny this reality you are lying to yourself… NOBODY can cure this problem from the outside. I’ve been to your church – I’ve seen you preach… You know the reality and I sincerely hope you honestly and truthfully take the problem to the actual streets that need them – rather than pandering to politicians that ultimately have no idea whats going on because they do *not* spend time in the community…. These BLM rallies need to happen in the predominately black areas – they need to happen exactly where gangs are known to congregate… *those* murderous maniacs are the great danger to black lives – the 2 young men killed at wendy’s on merrimon a few weeks ago are all but ignored and forgotten… that is local, that is real, and the APD would be happy to *help* find those killers – but AVL is intent on making the APD the enemy… the APD didn’t kill anyone here, and this and other relatively similar shootings of/within the black community are largely ignored by the mostly *white* people who show up to yell “black lives matter” – but don’t show up when black lives end at the hands of black people…
    What “systematic” change do you want to stop this??? https://www.citizen-times.com/story/news/local/2018/07/01/sounded-like-fireworks-bystanders-say-lee-walker-shooting-drive-asheville/749267002/
    Stop coddling a generation of people in love with the gangsta culture… dancing to music about murder and mayhem – about promiscuity and misogyny – about drugs to take/sell… stop letting them fall into what is literally called “the trap”…
    That is NOBODY’s responsibility outside the black community… that is parents, that is mentors, that is the community itself. NO legislation will change this… NO destruction of monuments… NO handouts… NO bailouts… NO “special attention from the APD”… People need better ideas and they need meaningful goals in life – and those who tear down the community need not be built up as some sort of idol… or even *tolerated*, or coddled, or *anything* except for completely denied and told to either change or STOP getting the blind eye turned to the crimes that are openly committed that are the *real* problems faced day to day by those who walk certain streets in this city…
    Get people together and address the internal struggles that can ONLY be addressed internally and I assure you… everything else will fall right into a much more peaceful place for ALL AVL residents… then maybe we can all ID as “ashevilian” and make this a truly great city…

      • Lulz

        Once you figure out that people are employed in government and politicians are continuing the whole scam to enrich themselves, everything is clear. Pushing more resources towards blacks only means more money for some fatcat involved with government. It’s definitely shown for decades now that it does not and never change or improve the state of black lives.

        Those giving you the thumbs down are the real racists. Merely because they assume that blacks can’t make it without the government. And they want bkacks addicted to it. It keeps them staying put and coming back for more. Your destiny lies in your own actions. And not some piece of crap politician, non profit leech,, or racial division pot stirrer.

        • luther blissett

          No part of this grand theory of government is true. It’s just an elaborate after-the-fact justification for not caring. It’s okay to say “I don’t care, it’s not my problem.”

          It’s also incompatible with the typical parallel argument that previous generations of government in this state — many of them Democrats — were a lot more racist. They were! It was bad! The impact of that doesn’t vanish overnight.

          Arguing that destiny lies solely in one’s own actions pretends that decades of preferential access to housing and education, underwritten by government, never made a difference.

          • T Haislip

            Its called *personal responsibility*… the more you deny this, the longer the problem persists – the longer the criminals feel justified as victims simply “lashing out” in the way they are expected to.
            Well… I don’t expect anyone to grow up a criminal… I do NOT accept being poor = being criminal… and I sincerely hope you can see the bigotry of low expectations underwriting your comment and *stop* parroting this narrative.
            Poverty is not begetting crime – crime is begetting poverty… perhaps you would know if you grew up in a place where any show of wealth (nice rims, stereo, shoes… etc) was STOLEN, or *at risk of* being stolen… perhaps you’d realize that had NOTHING to do with jobs not being acessible… you don’t think *thousands* of businesses were hiring all around Chicago? You don’t think those extreme high crime hoods are not VERY well located in respect to public transportation??? What do *too many of* the people use the transportation for…? Look up “guardian angels” and you’ll see that, for some, instead of going to a job to make $$$ they just get on the trains etc and rob… its common enough for people to volunteer as guards… that has *nothing* to do with someone owning a plantation hundreds of years ago – those day are long long gone, and just as much of that wealth has not been handed down to those “white” people who now live in poverty – the laws etc of that time have *long since* been rescinded…
            People are *free* to act as they wish, though increasingly less as they become reliant upon handouts… I knew *countless* people that took those handouts and made cash by any means to live a relatively lavish lifestyle because *that is what they wanted to do* – and even some of those from more well off families *did the same thing*… Overall it is a cultural phenomena – and one that academia has completely wrong… they are only creating a backdrop of excuses to otherwise completely unacceptable behavior – thus *encouraging* that behavior… STOP the bigotry of low expectations and call criminals and gangbanging murderers out for exactly what they are… STOP lapping them together with everyone who looks like them – and STOP telling little kids growing up in that neighborhood that this is what you “expect” to happen to them… let them grow up to be incredible people who do wonderful things, *if so they choose*… encourage them to be great, to be inspired… why does ANYONE think its acceptable to push this “dead or in jail, they hate you!” narrative on little kids because they are of a certain ethnicity…??? The grand majority of AVL will roll the dam red carpet out for any “person of color” willing to step into any given role in society… but in the other breath sets forth the expectation that any “person of color” will live a miserable life as they are hated everywhere outside (and inside) of the high crime community that reared them? Its sick, really sick… and it is destroying lives today….
            We ALL share the opportunities of this world – THAT is the message… I don’t care what your professor says, that IS the reality and the sooner you accept it the sooner it manifests itself in the lives of those that once thought they had no chance.

          • luther blissett

            Personal responsibility didn’t give your parents or grandparents a low-interest loan for a home and an inheritance that gave you a hand-up with everything you wanted to do in life.

            Personal responsibility didn’t stop your parents or grandparents from having their home demolished because of “urban renewal.”

            Personal responsibility didn’t set the budget of your school.

            The opportunities of the world are not evenly distributed.

          • Lulz

            LOL I went to Asheville City Schools. I went to same schools that blacks went to. I was at Ira B Jones with black kids from the south side of the city. I went to Hill Street, South French Broad,, and finally Asheville high. Those were the only middle, junior, and senior high schools in the city at the time. Guess what, they were fully integrated back then, Your rationale and logic is flawed.. Many blacks from that time because successful. What’s changed? Back girls back then didn’t get pregnant at 15. Neither did white girls for that matter.

            Yes Luther, actions do have consequences.

        • T Haislip

          “Your destiny lies in your own actions. And not some piece of crap politician, non profit leech,, or racial division pot stirrer.”
          I accept this. Many honestly believe their destiny is in the hands of their rulers… the whole “privilege” narrative is based on this farce… Thomas Sowell has torn this apart for generations – but what is the truth… go along with what the angry/miserable professor says – parrot the talking heads – parrot the questionable funding sourced “non profit” activist groups and/or NPR which is as clearly slanted as any “news” outlet has ever been…
          Very eye opening here, if ever you wondered *why* people are do demoralized and demotivated… if you wondered how people continue to vote for people obviously pandering (remember Hillary with the hot sauce? “are you pandering to us????”… she literally asked “is it working?”… Biden “You Ain’t Black if you Don’t Vote for Me”…)…. Malcom X says it well… the KGB agent makes it all make sense – very eye opening vid, enjoy.
          The whole point is to help the world be at peace… to get people to stop hating themselves and all of their life… to get those who have been psyched out by manipulators to snap out of the trance and come back to the calm observation of reality that is their birthright… We are at the most pivotal times, we are either going Nazi Germany/1984 (I am NOT exaggerating…) or we are going to the stars… I choose the latter – but I cannot do it alone… the truth is what sets us free – I suggest it become a focus for all who wish for a meaningful existence for themselves and others.

        • T Haislip

          “Pushing more resources towards blacks only means more money for some fatcat involved with government. It’s definitely shown for decades now that it does not and never change or improve the state of black lives.”

          I want to make it a VERY special point to note that when that little boy got killed in that driveby… a few people with signs showed up by the courthouses for a small demonstration that was really for the cameras… I had to go out of my way to ask them what they were there for, I had to start the discussion… and some guy with gold teeth and an expensive suit was being interviewed by WLOS… I suspect that is the “fat cat” in flesh, he had nothing of merit to say and *clearly* was eating that camera time up…
          In Chicago I heard some rather troubling stories regarding Jesse Jackson… and Alderman after Alderman fell for corruption… “community projects” were actually plentiful – but they never quite got done as planned… and nothing ever served to curb the violence.
          There was a community garden a few blocks from my grandmothers house in Englewood… in my 20’s I moved there to help her out – that garden *closed* while I was there because nobody wanted to volunteer due to the violence in the neighborhood… that has NOTHING to do with hundreds of years ago – that violence is brought by people today living a certain lifestyle… they *do not* have to go down that road… and to think so is the most horribly racist bigotry of low expectations imaginable… these people here are actually saying they “have to” hunt down and murder/rob/assault people in the community because of some “systematic racism”… no, they could do like some of their peers do and *do something else*… they could get one of any of 100,000 jobs available to them in one of the biggest cities in the world… maybe start a business (as many of their peers do…)… on and on…
          Don’t like AVL housing costs? You could make more there and move here: https://www.zillow.com/homedetails/2046-W-69th-Pl-Chicago-IL-60636/3996203_zpid/ … the real problems are “the cops” and “white people”…. right? All you need to do is “show some love” and those guys who write rap songs about slaying their enemies will realize all they really need is government housing and a universal basic income… maybe if you tear down some more statues they’ll “feel better” and give out hugs rather than bullets… and they will stop terrorizing the GOOD PEOPLE who live there and just want to get on with their lives… Good people who generally want to be treated *as equals*, not as “special cases” – they (we?) consider that extremely demeaning and belittling…. maybe if you move there (whoever buys the academic/msm narrative…) it’ll make sense to you – maybe you’ll make a difference… in reality I think you’d last less than 2 weeks and you’d be humbled in the face of a reality you do not understand – and you would feel like a fool for acting like you did in times prior.
          And know not everyone in that community will agree with me… newsflash – there are greatly diverse views in EVERY group… all we can really do is measure the results of any given ideology in the most objective manner and plan accordingly for the future… while realizing *personal experience* is something that you cannot get in a classroom – that cannot be “studied” in the halls of academia – that can only be *respected* and *contemplated* but never truly *comprehended*.

          • Lulz

            It’s not the Vance Monument keeping blacks down. That’s for sure. But like good.little sheep, they sit back and allow these white fools to toss them crumbs by calling for it’s removal. Meanwhile these same whites go back to their homes and make plans for summer vacations. And brag on Facebook or wherever about how they’re not racists. Oh and those same neighborhoods are about as diverse as a roll of toilet paper. And they will be that way forever. The biggest hypocrites are the ones who yell the.loudest yet have the least involvement. And assume token gestures and payoffs are the cure. Same old, same old.

  2. Curious

    Could Mr. Hackett, or a reporter/columnist, give us some specifics on what specific efforts the Safety and Justice Challenge is taking? And perhaps some reports on how they are working out?

      • T Haislip

        Sounds like they are going to get together and talk about the criminal justice system…

        A complete sham… *nothing* in there about building community centers – NOTHING about mentorship… nothing about addressing the root causes of ANY problems in the general AVL community… the “racial equity action plan” is completely devoid of ANY engagement with the community – it is highlighting engagement with the criminal justice system… I’m sure that takes 2 million… volunteers at a community center could do that – someone is lining their wallets very deeply with this “program”… and they are NOT going out in the community – they are “creating a safe space to have a discussion”…

        I’m sure the “cj101 video at community events” is going to change everything… totally worth 2 mil… great job team.

        Maybe since someone is getting rich here they can take their nice car to the high crime areas and try to inspire those would be criminals to do something else… perhaps instead of informing magistrates on how to measure the “risk” of releasing these individuals they could “challenge” themselves to actually do something that makes that magistrates/the criminal justice system’s job alot easier… by helping solve the problems of crime itself… but those are deeper and must less bureaucratic concerns that may mean working *together* with law enforcement rather than setting upon a high horse and pompously barking orders at them…

    • Virginia Daffron

      Here’s a video discussion of criminal justice reform efforts, including the Safety and Justice Challenge, hosted on the Buncombe County Facebook page a couple of weeks ago:


      The discussion features Mr. Hackett, LeAnn Melton (chief public defender for Buncombe County), Tony Gould (Buncombe County Jail administrator), Rob Thomas (Racial Justice Coalition coordinator) and others.


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