Letter: Speak out about what we want from police

Graphic by Lori Deaton

On Oct. 26, another young Black man was killed by police in Philadelphia. Walter Wallace Jr. was shot multiple times by officers after his mother told them he had bipolar disorder and was in the midst of a mental health crisis. This unconscionable act parallels the August shooting of Grant Paul Dalton in Asheville, who was shot by officers as he exited an empty [city] bus. Dalton was known by police to have mental health diagnoses and substance use issues.

These two events highlight the inappropriateness and danger of allowing armed police to respond to individuals suffering from mental and emotional distress. They are also a sobering illustration of racial disparities in police encounters: Both Dalton and Wallace needed competent psychiatric crisis intervention. Responders in both incidents knew of their victims’ diagnoses and proceeded to fire their weapons. Dalton was shot once and survived. Dalton is white. Wallace was shot multiple times and is dead. Wallace was Black.

We do not need or want police responding to our friends, family and neighbors in despair. We do not want people of color, neurodivergent or differently abled folks to fear for their lives when they are crying out for help. Firearms do not de-escalate; caring mental health professionals do.

The city of Asheville recently passed an insulting 3% cut in the APD budget, one that trimmed the fat from innocuous [areas] like animal control. Please, Asheville, let’s continue to be vocal about these important issues through organizing, demonstrations and public comment at City Council meetings. Let’s demand ethical, compassionate care for everyone in our community and acknowledge that we cannot look to the police for these interventions.

— Megan Piscitelle

Editor’s note: Xpress contacted the Asheville Police Department for clarification about what police knew about Dalton. We received the following response from police spokesperson Christina Hallingse: “This incident remains under review by the Buncombe County District Attorney’s Office, and there is no additional information we can provide at this time.

“Please note, it is standard procedure and the policy of the Asheville Police Department for all officer-involved shootings to be investigated by the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) and the Buncombe County District Attorney’s Office, as well as reviewed by APD to ensure all departmental policies and procedures were followed.”

An Aug. 29 Citizen Times story reported that APD’s crisis negotiation team contacted Dalton’s mother during the incident, and she told them about her son’s mental illness.


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Letters
We want to hear from you! Send your letters and commentary to letters@mountainx.com

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

11 thoughts on “Letter: Speak out about what we want from police

  1. Enlightened Enigma

    Yes, where are all the mental health volunteers for all the neurodivergent peoples in our midst?
    Volunteers can solve this problem! Call one when you need one!

  2. Mike R.

    The police have a right to protect their own health and safety. When citizens refuse to comply with police officer directions, commands, etc., they put in jeopardy all those involved.

    It is very easy to second guess and “monday morning quarterback” any/all of these tragic encounters, but what I find in almost all of them is the refusal of the person to reasonably obey the police officer commands. Had they done that, they would be alive.

    With regards to the mentally ill in our society, the “bad guy” is not the police. One can only imagine what they have to put up with on a routine basis. The “enemy” is us, our society, for not insisting on institutions for many of these poor souls and other methods of effective supervison.
    We can spend money planting wildflowers and expensive landscaping along our highways. We can spend public monies on all sorts of “nice to haves” for our entertainment and comfort, but we can’t seem to conjure the will to better support our mentally ill. Shame on us. NOT the police.

    • James

      The motto of the police is to protect and to serve NOT to self-protect and to self-serve. They know what they are signing up for. ANY unarmed person who ends up dead or injured at the hands of the cops (cowards on patrol vs law enforcement officers) is a failure of the cops, their superiors and the system. We expect law enforcement to safely hand people accused of crimes over to the justice system NOT act as judge, jury and executioner themselves.

      Shame on YOU for giving them cover to continue to to treat us like an enemy population they were sent in to subdue for an invading force. Dealing with the police is a stressful moment when people may be confused in the moment. Ask the cops who just let Rittenhouse walk right past them while the crowd yelled that Rittenhouse had just shot several people. They said they got confused in the moment and the chaos. These are people TRAINED to be calm and respond in a focused manner. The general population, regardless of their race are not. If the police can’t respond to your standards then how can you expect the public? Especially a segment of the public who know that they are very likely to be injured or killed in the encounter because of police bias. The police expect every Black citizen to be a threat so they act that way.

      Watch a white guy, who looks like the type who shoots churches and schools walk into downtown and the police presume him to be a “good guy with a gun” and protects HIM. Gives HIM an escort and a friendly salute or a bottle of water. A Black man reaching for his wallet or cell phone is automatically presumed to be reaching for a gun and is a threat who needs taken down pronto.

      A BLM supporter with a water bottle is treated like a criminal and their medic tent is trashed for “trespassing” rather than politely asked to voluntarily comply. A white guy refusing to wear a mask is politely asked to put it on (or just ignored) but no consequences if they refuse because enforcement is voluntary. Until you recognize the double standard, YOU will continue to be the problem along with the cops and the law enforcement that refuses to speak up and share what they saw and heard with those investigating those crimes. Note the irony of cops refusing to share info to solve or prevent crime but DEMAND under threat of law that WE share info with them or we are obstructing justice.

      • Mike R.

        We obviously see things in a totally different light.

        I believe that the vast majority of police incidents that end in violence against the “suspect” are justified when one considers the unbelievable level of handguns in this country and the unbelievable amount of gun violence (on a per capita basis, the black community has everyone beat here) in our society. AND the refusal by these people to listen to and obey police orders. This is key.

        This society is no the Andy of Mayberry so many of us want to believe. Police have to make split second decisions to protect their life. And once that decision is made, anyone with the correct knowledge will tell you that the officer must use overwhelming force. That means, again they don’t play Andy Taylor and shoot in the air, or even shoot someone in the leg. The decision to use deadly force means just that. It seems and is horrendous, but that is the stark reality.

        There is good cause for police officers to be afraid of young black males. On a per capita basis, this group of individuals are much more violent than other races/groups. You can see this across the country in cities such as Chicago, Baltimore, Philly, Charlotte and even in Asheville, if you are willing to look at the stats. That said, of course other races have dangerous people. And I would suspect that police maybe give them too much of a bye and may regret that from time to time. I think of the recent murder of a Hendersonville police officer (or sheriff not sure) when they encountered a scumbag (white) trying to break into someone’s car/house. In a split second, that officer was mortally wounded when the suspect retrieved a gun from the car and shot him.

        VIolence is only going to get worse in this country, I’m afraid. It is polyanish to expect police officers to be fear free when dealing with ANY member of the public and for even the slightest infractions. You just don’t know what might set people off.
        If you or any member of the public feels that a more gentle approach to policing is in order, then I challenge you to sign up for that job and lead by example.

        • James

          How many Black males have died at the hands of police and then compare that to the number of cops killed by Black males. Your letter reeks of the racism I referred to. if the cops want to keep killing unarmed Americans then I suggest YOU pay for them instead of us. We’re tired of handing over our money to be the victims of the police rather than the beneficiaries of policing.

      • Big Al

        A BLM supporter who THROWS a water bottle at a police officer during a riot IS A CRIMINAL and deserves to be treated as such. The APD is well within their rights to remove the source of the BLM’s weapons as they did by destroying that stack of water bottles.

        Talk about “giving cover” when you blame police for reacting to being assaulted, while pretending that the assaulter was innocent. Shame on YOU for enabling violence and promoting disorder. I’ll take the APD’s “overreaction” to the BLM’s record of inciting violence, inviting vandalism and giving cover to terrorism any day.

        • James

          Please provide a list of all the people who died from a water bottle and I will provide a list of those who died from Covid and at the hands of cops and let’s see whose list is longer. The “source” of water bottles was a first aid station. The Gestapo would have been proud of you and your tactics.

        • luther blissett

          Yet another display of the internalized belief that the police are special, precious beings and whatever kind of policing they deign to offer is what the public should accept and comply with. The police are the public. Policing is a service, a municipal function.

          And countless cases show that compliance matters less than whether cops feel threatened, and cops feel threatened in irrational and biased ways.

        • Lou

          Right, those dangerous, scary water bottles…oh my! How about the white boy who drives hundreds of miles with a deadly rifle and shoots peaceful protesters and is then hailed as a hero? How about all of those people of color, who committed no crime besides being black (in the eyes of Nazi police this is a crime of course) and were beaten, jailed, even murdered?? You people spend your entire lives trying to justify why this world is not racist when what you should be doing instead is trying to find ways to make it better. That would be counterproductive for you guys though, wouldn’t it? It would totally take down that tower you continue to perch upon, looking down on the rest of us (people of color, women, people with disabilities) as if WE are the problem.

    • Jason Williams

      Actually it’s shame on the Congressional Republicans, who have insisted ever since Reagan, to cut funding to social safety net programs. Carter signed The Mental Health Systems Act of 1980, which provided support to community based mental health facilities, but The Reagan administration, in an effort to “ free up the marketplace” repealed most of the MHSA and redirected funding to grants for “ for profit” institutions. Most of those private institutions that didn’t fail in the following years, closed after the 2009 Great Recession.
      The ACA mandated that insurance companies had to cover mental health care, but again Republicans set their sights on taking away that option too.

  3. Susie-Danzen

    We are asking the Asheville police to make fewer arrests. If they did this, then by proxy the statistical crime rate would be lowered. Yay!!
    It would be a win-win for all of Asheville! Lower crime and fewer arrests!

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.