Asheville activists: No more money for police

I've covered local budget processes for almost two decades in various cities in the Carolinas, and I've never seen a City pressured to NOT hire police officers.

Normally, police (along with firefighters and other emergency services) are used as leverage for increasing tax rates, as elected officials assert they must raise taxes to pay for more coverage. This tactic works precisely because most people want greater police and fire protection.

It's the core responsibility of any local government. Which is why the tactic normally works.


But this is Asheville.

In Asheville, there is organized opposition to hiring more police officers to patrol the downtown business and tourism district:

ASHEVILLE - An unusually large and impassioned crowd packed City Hall  Tuesday to oppose additional funding for 15 new police officers.

Police  Chief Tammy Hooper has said the officers, who would cost around $1  million, are necessary to deal with a 17 percent increase in violent  crime, much of it downtown. That has drawn protests from activists using  the slogan "$1 Million for the People" who say the money should go  toward public transit or anti-poverty programs.

For more than two  hours opponents and a few supporters of the funding spoke in the public  hearing that was the last official chance to comment on the budget  before a planned June 13 City Council vote.

"I want to give you  903 signatures and climbing to say that we need more community. That  community creates safety, and not expanding police," said protest  organizer the Rev. Amy Cantrell.

The leaders of "the community" oppose the hiring of more police officers because they believe it will lead to more arrests of black people by white cops.

Several speakers echoed the larger national debate over police racial  bias, including Dewanna Little, an African-American resident who said  she's experienced problems locally.

"We are the ones who police stop walking down the street," Little said.

Many took confrontational tones, questioning police's role in society and the even the basic structure of city government. 

Perhaps Asheville could provide a national model in this regard. Perhaps the City Council should agree to pull law enforcement from areas that the leaders of "the community" choose. This would allow reassignment of those officers to other areas the Chief of Police chooses.

Spend the money on the services "the community" desires, and see if the model works better.

As a reminder, the Asheville City Council is completely run by progressive Democrats. There is not a single representative for Republicans or conservatives. Nor has there been in nearly a decade.

Jake Swett said the gathering represented workers' growing  dissatisfaction over low wages and what he called a lack of government  transparency.

"There's a lot more of us than of them, or of you.  We're starting to organize," Swett said. "If we don't start to see real  sustainable change in our government here, I can't even speak to what  will happen."

Some  of the biggest applause came after Luis Serabio, who was providing live  interpretation in Spanish, spoke against the funding. Serabio told  council members more needed to be done to include Hispanics in local  government.

"All of you, what do you do to reach out to my community?" he said.

Dee Williams, one of two black council candidates, said policing was based on historic oppression, and that needed to change.

"Modern  policing is no more than compilation of, let's face it, slave catching  and protection of property that folks who are landed gentry own,"  Williams said.


Given the level of animosity towards law enforcement, perhaps it is time to give these local leaders exactly what they seek.

Pete Kaliner

Pete Kaliner

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