At a private meeting on June 21, dozens of local business owners met with Asheville city officials, including Mayor Esther Manheimer, to address Asheville Police Department staffing challenges. Organizers — who claimed to speak on behalf of the entire business community — demanded more resources and support for police to resolve a litany of public health and safety issues. But the business community in Asheville is not homogeneous, and many of us believe that new strategies are overdue. A June survey found that more than half of American voters feel similarly.¹
As local business owners and nonprofit directors who have been deeply impacted by the Movement for Black Lives, we know that police cannot solve the complex challenges Asheville faces. Like our colleagues, many of us have picked up endless trash and navigated scary encounters with strangers. At times, we may feel overwhelmed by these situations, but we reject the conservative narrative that they are the result of social justice movements.²
From housing shortages to drug overdoses, Asheville’s crises stem from deep dysfunctions and injustices. For too long, our city has overinvested in punishment and underinvested in equity — reliance on policing is not the solution, it is the problem.³
Defenders of the status quo will tell us that only police are capable of addressing our short-term need for health and safety, but we know this is untrue. If we want to live in a just Asheville, we must practice justice on our journey. We believe our community is creative and passionate enough to solve its problems if we engage in a process that is truly inclusive. Such a process must center the voices of Black, immigrant and working-class Ashevilleans, to whom we as businesses and nonprofits can be allies.
Footnotes: ¹ By an 18-point margin, voters support changes to policing that shift all public safety functions related to traffic enforcement, homelessness, mental health, minor crime and substance abuse to unarmed civil officers, social workers and EMTs. Source: Data for Progress.
² “A historic, once-in-a-lifetime worldwide event destabilized the lives of countless people, and also led to an undeniable rise in shootings and homicide across the country. However, right-leaning media have used the uptick in certain crime categories to weaponize a counter-narrative to social justice movements, one that argues we need more cops and law enforcement to save our cities.” Source: Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting.
³ The city of Asheville’s proposed budget for 2021-22 includes $29.3 million for policing — equivalent to the expenditure on Equity and Inclusion, Transportation, Parks and Recreation, and Public Works combined. Source: city of Asheville.
— Ash Wilde, Beck Nippes and Libertie Valance, Firestorm Books & Coffee; Alyx Perry and Jay Hill, Code for Asheville; Anuj Patel, Tech House; Casey Campfield, The Crow & Quill; Darcel Eddins, Bountiful Cities; Jazmin Rogers, Asheville Iridescence Yoga; Gretchen Horn, Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café; Tamiko Ambrose Murray, Ambrose Consulting; Matt Schnable and Mark Capon, Harvest Records; Rosetta Star, Rosetta’s Kitchen; Rob Thomas, Racial Justice Coalition; Stephanie Swepson Twitty, Eagle Market Streets Development Corp.; Letitia Walker, Purna Yoga 828; Tarleton Walmsley; Garden Party; and Samhita Kudva, Center for Participatory Change; Emily Fox, Asheville Poverty Initiative; Jason Krekel, The Krektones; Francesca Santi, Playdate; Meredith Leigh, MereLeigh Food; Lindsay Riley and Meghan McIver, Palm + Pine; Lydia See, Engaging Collections public art initiative; E. Hamilton, Weedlady Asheville; Rue Robin, Resilient Roots Bodywork; United Methodist Church Pastor Nancy Dixon Walton; Marsha Davis, Tzedek Social Justice Fund; Chad Colwell, Flashcat Courier Co.; Patrick Conant, PRC Applications; Jae Miller-Davidson, Mountain Pet Valet; Jay Englebach and Gwen Casebeer, Black Trumpet Farm; Ami Worthen, Garnet Prose + Projects; Allyson Seifert, Pollen Coffee + Flowers; Jennifer Lapidus, Bex Orris and Cathy Cleary; Asheville Bread Festival; John Hale, Crocodile Wine; Desiree Adaway, The Adaway Group; Gillie Roberts, Ware; Hunter Savoy, Naassene; Kristen Molina-Nauert, The Nook; Beth Trigg, Taproot Consulting; Tracy Davis-Black, Tracy Davis-Black Therapy; Dre Donoghue, Greenhouse; Colin Alford, Percipis Consulting; Joe Wilkerson, Body-Integrated Psychotherapy; Hill Brown, Steady Collective; and The Rev. Marcia Mount Shoop
— Asheville and WNC