Asheville – Citizen comment on Asheville City Council’s resolution to support reparations for slavery passed during Tuesday’s July 14 online meeting was overwhelming and unanimous in favor of said reparations. The resolution only mentioned reparations broadly, as forming committees, performing studies, and calling on higher bodies of government to develop strategies and policies to “create generational wealth and boost economic mobility and opportunity in the black community.” Whereas comment in the former meetings was largely cut-and-paste, this time, psychologists, educators, artists, college students, and pastors composed original paragraphs covering the talking points; only seven shared their preferred pronouns, though.
Supporters referenced a history much different from that related in what they considered “revisionist” texts written by white supremacists about humble Protestants fleeing religious persecution. To them, the United States was built on the premise of Manifest Destiny. Greedy white men conquered land, killed Native Americans, and imported and enslaved Africans so they could amass greater wealth. Then, they created police departments for the sole purpose of capturing runaway slaves. And to this day, police departments continue the legacy of keeping people of color subjugated and on the plantation. Councilwoman Sheneika Smith wished out loud that the education system would have done a better job.
Councilman Keith Young said white supremacists view blacks as “blood capital…hundreds of years of black blood spilt that basically fills the cup we drink from today.” He continued, “The same systemics that allow statues to go up and the disparities in policing to continue are the very same systemics that recycles itself generation after generation after generation and still remain regardless of this council or its financial allocations.”
Slavery, Jim Crowe laws, redlining, urban renewal, and policies like predatory lending were all ways white supremacists have held down people of color. Smith quoted the late Reverend Wesley Grant’s assessment of the toll urban renewal took on the East Riverside community: more than 1,100 homes, six beauty parlors, five barbershops, five filling stations, fourteen grocery stores, three laundromats, eight apartment houses, seven churches, three shoe shops, two cabinet shops, two auto body shops, one hotel, five funeral homes, one hospital, and three doctor’s offices. “Reparation is more than restitution for what happened during the trans-Atlantic slave trade,” said Smith, “It is the dark evil – sin – of chattel slavery that is the root of all injustice and inequity at work in American life today.”
Evan Garner, speaking in public comment, continued the new history lesson, explaining that primitive capital was land and slaves. The first commodity on the New York Stock Exchange, he said, was bodies. Others commenting continued to call for Mayor Esther Manheimer and Police Chief David Zack to resign. Many participating in public comment spoke disparagingly of capitalism, and Karl Marx was mentioned a few times, as might be expected from people feeling dispossessed, with neither means nor means of acquiring any, during a technological revolution.
Disregarding existing laws, a few didn’t seem to know much about the city, one referring to councilmembers as “congresspeople.”
Suggesting greater specificity for reparations, one emailer whose name was cut listed, “guaranteed job programs for meaningful employment, restorative justice programs, affordable housing, public education, mental health services, evidence-based substance use treatment and harm reduction services, rent subsidies and eviction diversion, [and] free public transit.” Government assistance with housing and small businesses and free transit were recurring requests.
A majority of commenters believed the Asheville Police Department should forfeit 50% or more of its budget. During another discussion about contracting with an outside firm to investigate the department’s actions during the June riots, UNCA student Rosemary Farley commented, “We shouldn’t be reasoning with these people [the police]. We know what we need to do, which is to take away their rights, take away their privileges, take away their funding. We already have all the video and evidence and witnesses of the horrible atrocities that took place during the protests.”
Commenter David Greenson, training director at Rootskeeper and a spearheader of the Black AVL Demands movement, said he was guilty for all the harms. He supported and enabled the people perpetrating the harms because his tax dollars funded the police department that battered Johnnie Rush. Furthermore, he didn’t do anything to remove from office the city officials who created the organizational culture that allowed Rush to be abused, the same people who created an economy that “pushes” people of color into low-wage jobs with hours that make them vulnerable to police incidents.
Anne and Tom Sherry wrote, “[We] have long thought that our city property taxes should have a line item of a significant sum dedicated to reparations and would absolutely support additional taxes that can begin to right the deep wrongs that have devastated black Asheville. Changing our hearts will take a longer time.”
A guy named Max said to skip the investigation into whether or not police responded appropriately to the riots. He continued saying the same skip orders could be extended to deciding what happened and what people were thinking 200 and 300 years ago. “Do right by black people,” he said simply. “Listen to them.”
Editor’s note: Be sure to read the related commentary starting on page 1