Our horrific history of racial oppression continues to repeat itself. Case in point: we learned last week of the completely unjustified and brutal beating of Johnnie Jermaine Rush, a black man, by members of the Asheville Police Department. This incident happened in August of last year. We only finally found out about it because someone in the department followed their morals and leaked the story to the Citizen-Times.
On March 3 the Asheville Blade published, “This will happen again,” a crucial and critical overview of the details and context we have to date, stating:
“Every single public decision over the past years has sent the message that we have a city government that does not take racism or injustice seriously, that isn’t willing to enforce transparency or inflict consequences and that the APD’s leadership would always have the benefit of the doubt. It sent the message that any line could be crossed, any oversight ignored and every flimsy excuse believed and all critics dismissed with mantras of ‘trust us.’
What the hell did they think would happen?
What do they think will happen again?”
(I admonish you to read the complete Blade story.)
Casey Blake’s editorial in the Citizen-Times, “Shameful police brutality isn’t ‘all in your mind’,” states, “That we are still having this same conversation – still entertaining the idea that black folks are getting a fair shake with law enforcement – is another kind of shameful.”
When I first heard about this incident, I felt overwhelming sadness and anger, and I sat in those emotions, and will continue to. If we truly seek collective liberation, we must exercise our empathy muscles.
As I have begun to reflect on the many angles that need to be addressed, I remembered an event hosted by Carolina Jews for Justice West in December 2015. At that event, we watched part of the film, Ferguson: A Report from Occupied Territory, followed by a panel discussion with APD Chief Tammy Hooper, Buncombe County Sheriff Van Duncan, J. Hackett and Sheneika Smith, who were both at Green Opportunities at the time.
One moment that came to mind was when Sheneika reminded the audience that police began as slave patrols. If you are not familiar with that history, here is a video that gives a brief overview of it:
Understanding history is essential to creating new futures.
The Asheville Blade referenced the CJJ event in their story, “Time of tension,” which came out soon after APD Sgt. Tyler Radford killed Jerry ‘Jai’ Williams on July 2, 2016.
Excerpt: “Maybe some of us walked around with our heads in the sand,” Hooper said of her and her professional colleagues awareness of the level of racism and malfeasance in some departments, and added that they had “a lot to learn.”
“Our officers have to be 100 percent accountable,” she later emphasized, and promised that there would be consequences for misconduct during her tenure.
However, Smith questioned the very basis of the current policing system, saying it was built around racial injustice at its core, had been for all of American history, and required a fundamental change. “Black lives do not matter in Asheville,” she said, pointing to the numbers in the State of Black Asheville report.
Hackett also emphasized that, as an African-American man in Asheville, he had encountered some of the same issues the reports on Ferguson revealed, though he was reassured that Duncan and Hooper were appalled by that policing system.
“If we think our situation is isolated from Ferguson, we are blind,” Smith later added.
[End of excerpt.]
Fast forward three years and we now have Sheneika Smith serving on City Council. After the news broke about the police brutality Mr. Rush experienced, Sheneika posted a statement on her Sheneika for Asheville Facebook page, which concluded with,
“How has our long neglect of equity in this community led to the point where a black man walking home after working 12 hours can be profiled and assaulted for an alleged ‘jaywalking’ citation?
The time is now to make a true investment in dismantling these systemic problems and doing the hard work of increasing equity in our city. At the end of the day, these are investments in public safety, because a just and equitable city is a safe place that everyone can call home!!!”
Asheville is so lucky to have Sheneika as one of our elected officials, though of course, as one person, she can only do so much. We are all responsible for the community transformation we seek.
Our work continues to be exposing the roots of our unjust system, and implementing strategies to dismantle it while building liberated alternatives.
There are many lanes in this work. If you are looking for ideas of ways to engage, I suggest emailing Asheville SURJ at firstname.lastname@example.org and asking to be added to their weekly “Show Up Schedule” email, some of which is posted as a calendar here.
The Citizen’s Police Advisory Committee meets this Wednesday, March 7 at 6:30 pm at theDr. Wesley Grant Sr. Southside Center located at 285 Livingston Street. Show up.
You can find a list of some amazing Asheville organizations led by people of color that you can support here.
Use your voice, leverage resources, love.
This is not the post I planned to write today, though it certainly was the one I needed to. As you might imagine, I am full of ideas for posts. I want to thank my subscribers, my patrons on Patreon, and those of you who have made donations via PayPal or a credit card, as you help me move towards true sustainability for this writing.
Peace and gratitude.