In the months following George Floyd’s death, Asheville, like the rest of the nation, has seen regular protests against police brutality. The demonstrations in Asheville have not only been shining a light on police murders of Black people nationally but have also brought attention to how the Asheville Police Department has brutalized the Black community locally. Examples … include the killing of Jai Lateef Solveig “Jerry” Williams in 2016 and the brutal beating of Johnnie Rush in 2017.
The demonstrators who have taken the streets week after week have rallied around a number of demands set forth by the Black community. The demands include 50% divestment from the police department and reallocating that money back into the community; reparations for Black Asheville city and Buncombe County residents; the removal of racist monuments; and an end to the war on Black people.
Asheville City Council moved quickly to make symbolic gestures such as removing Confederate monuments and shrouding the Vance Monument. They have also taken the first steps toward reparations by creating a task force. The primary demand of Black Asheville has not been addressed. The APD is still fully funded, and no substantial steps have been taken to protect the Black and brown community or to repair past harm and build trust. Because these issues have not been addressed, demonstrators continue to take the streets demanding justice and systemic changes to public safety. Although the focus has been directed at systemic racism within the APD, the protests have also highlighted how gentrification under the euphemism of “urban renewal” disenfranchised the Black citizens of Ashville.
The citizens of Asheville, who have gathered to express their grief and outrage, have remained peaceful. Unfortunately, the Asheville Police Department has not. On Saturday, Aug. 8, several hundred people gathered at the former Vance Monument and soon made their way to the police station. Once there, they lay down in the parking lot with roses or knelt with heads bowed for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in memory of all those killed by police violence. After the vigil, there was a gathering at the amphitheater by the courthouse, complete with music and pizza. What followed was a peaceful march through downtown to bring attention to how systemic racism, police, brutality and gentrification is impacting the Black community.
The demonstrators then made their way to a local hotel, where they expressed their dismay that tourists are streaming into the city as COVID-19 cases are skyrocketing. It is well known that COVID-19 disproportionately impacts Black and brown communities. The reopening of hotels is yet another example of white businesses being valued over Black lives. The demonstration at the hotel was disruptive but peaceful. The demonstrators left the hotel on their own accord; no property damage occurred.
As the sun started to set, the protesters were confronted by an APD officer. The marchers told the officer respectfully that they were exercising their constitutional right to protest. In response, squad cars closed in on the marchers, and officers jumped out and tackled people to the ground. APD officers also struck people with batons, shoving and choking marchers as they violently made their arrests. The APD showed their true colors once again as they responded to a protest against police brutality with yet more brutality. While the police violently assaulted demonstrators demanding racial justice, they actively defended Rondell Lance. Rondell Lance is a retired cop who is now the president of the Asheville Fraternal Order of Police. He was caught on film shoving, grabbing and dragging protesters along the ground before hiding behind the police line. This follows a disturbing trend of police protecting white supremacists and police sympathizers. It must be noted that many of the officers present were not wearing masks, as is mandated by the state.
Although the APD has threatened marchers with further arrests and brutalization if they continue to march, the citizens of Asheville have not been intimidated. The very next day, people again gathered and took the streets demanding an end to police violence. As a community, we deserve better, and as a community, we can reimagine what public safety looks like. In this vision, Black and brown people are not targeted and attacked. In this vision, people are provided the support they need, not punitive punishment. This vision is rooted in compassion instead of racism. We can do better, and our voices will be heard.
— An Asheville father
Editor’s note: The writer reports that the letter is written in solidarity with the following: a potter, a college student, an arts educator, a carpenter, an engineer, a community organizer, a musician, a registered nurse, a therapist, a fiddler, a mom, a social worker, an engineer, a mechanic, a horse trainer, a radio DJ, an artist, a forager, a homebuilder, a mother, a death care worker, a storyteller, an environmental educator, a preschool teacher, a woodworker, a jeweler, a medical student, a builder and a paramedic.
Xpress contacted the Asheville Police Department with a summary of the letter writer’s points relating to the Aug. 8 protest but did not receive a response by press time. The Citizen Times published a pair of articles about the incident, including a video showing police arresting protesters and Lance’s actions at the time. “Lance can be seen forcefully shoving protesters away, shouting, ‘Stay off the police!’ in a video taken by citizen journalist Matt Henson,” according to an Aug. 12 article. “He then pulls a protester in a bicycle helmet along the ground as an officer tries to subdue the person. Another officer steps in and pushes Lance away.” APD spokeswoman Christina Hallingse told the Citizen Times that protesters on bikes surrounded a police car and then “jumped on top of officers and began assaulting them” when officers moved to arrest them. On Aug. 14, the newspaper reported that two demonstrators had taken out warrants accusing Lance of assault and impersonating an officer.