Authored by Chantal Stevens, Interim Executive Director with WNC members, Curry First and Alex Cury
Asheville City Council passed a resolution acknowledging slavery, racism, and committing to invest in the community.
On July 15, 2020, the Asheville City Council passed a resolution unanimously, apologizing for the city’s role in slavery and racism and committing to reparations through investments in programs geared towards supporting Black businesses, careers, and homeownership.
This resolution comes on the heels of the removal of two Confederate monuments and weeks of ongoing protests following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police.
Asheville by no means is the model for equity; just last month the city faced national scrutiny for the destruction of medical supplies by police during the protests against police violence. The city, one of the most gentrified cities in the country, has a school system with one of the highest achievement gaps in the state, and a history of racist policing exemplified by the 2017 case of police abuse of resident Johnnie Rush. At this moment, however, they are taking a step in the right direction. Asheville is doing what we should all be doing; facing our own complicity in upholding a racist system that has prevailed since the founding of this country.
During slavery, Black people were forced to labor for the enrichment of America. After slavery, the emancipated suffered violent repression and exploitation under Jim Crow laws and black codes in the South and de facto segregation across the nation. The end of slavery also saw the rise of slavery by another name in the form of excessive imprisonment, which conscripted hundreds of thousands of unjustly incarcerated Black men and women to generations of unpaid labor on behalf of public and private interests. Black people today continue to be stymied by systemic racism and white supremacy. The results of those inequities show up in unequal access to education, healthcare, housing, in unemployment and underemployment, and in the enforcement of the rule of law that is both racist and discriminatory. It is precisely because of these ongoing inequities that we need restorative justice.
Actions like the ones by Asheville, are not the first, and should not be the last. There needs to be a formal recognition from our state and federal government for its role in the enslavement or post-slavery apartheid of millions of Blacks. Federal bills like H.R. 40 in Congress attempt to begin the process of reparatory justice for the violence of enslavement. Additionally, in the wake of prolonged protests for thousands of victims of police brutality, not coincidentally against the descendants of enslaved Americans and others in minoritized racial groups, there is now a growing recognition that policing is a fundamentally violent and racist institution that needs to be dismantled – not merely reformed. When it comes to conversations about racial justice and equity, reparations and police divestment are all part of the same conversation.
For these reasons and many others, we have joined the calls to divest from police and for reparations.
Divesting would mean a critical downscaling of police budgets in our cities and reinvesting those funds to support people and services in marginalized communities that have been neglected for far too long. It means funds for initiatives like education, healthcare, and other local resources that would improve public safety and well-being. Cities like Asheville, Raleigh, and Charlotte have inflated law enforcement budgets. And, far from keeping our communities safe, law enforcement perpetuates a cycle of violence and injustice – while the urgent issues of poverty, mental illness, and substance abuse go unaddressed. By shrinking our law enforcement budget, we can help end decades of racially driven social control and oppression as well as address social problems at their root instead of investing in an institution that further oppresses and terrorizes communities.
Amid this national reckoning against racial injustice, we now have a historic opportunity to divest from a broken, biased system of policing and begin the process of making reparations by reinvesting those dollars in the Black and Brown communities that have been unjustly targeted. Whether justice prevails depends on us and our ability to heed to the leadership and the voices of Black people demanding freedom. Until Black Lives Matter, we acknowledge the reasons why reparations are needed and hold ourselves accountable, there will be no real justice.
Asheville doesn’t hold the answers, but it’s setting an example for North Carolina on one way to get there. We hope others will follow suit.