Asheville – Asheville City Council voted unanimously in favor of a budget amendment to appropriate $2.1 million toward reparations. Staff and council were leaning toward seeding the municipal reparations fund with a $1.2 million allocation from the fund balance. “The community,” however, pushed back, scoffing at the concept of paying their own reparations through increased property taxes.
So, playing as if money weren’t fungible, the city opted to pay reparations with proceeds from property sales. In particular, the old brick building on South Charlotte Street, which the city acquired for urban renewal, was sold to the yeast and brewing company White Labs. This didn’t exactly appease activists, either, who argued the land should be given back to the community and not to White corporatists.
Since promising reparations almost a year ago, city staff was developing definitions and trying to identify the problem(s). Working with sponsors, it produced a tripartite Information Sharing and Truth-Telling Speaker Series. Presenters included local and national talent City Manager Debra Campbell referred to as luminaries, like UNCA’s Professor Emeritus, Dr. Dwight Mullen, and community liaison for the Racial Justice Coalition, Rob Thomas.
Next year, $200,000 of the $2.1 million will be allocated toward setting up and operating a Reparations Commission. Through an inclusive process, the commission will determine strategic applications for the funding. Campbell said commission members will looking at how various public policies force and reinforce disparities among the races. A report of the commission’s findings should be complete by April 2023.
The city didn’t wait until the budget was adopted at their next meeting to vote on the appropriation, even though the next fiscal year was just three weeks away. Instead, staff wanted the transfer completed before Juneteenth. The Buncombe County Commissioners, however, were not working under such a critical timeline.
When Councilwoman Gwen Wisler asked what the county had intended to pay toward reparations, Campbell replied, “They have not presented any kind of budget or recommended funding for this initiative as of yet, is my understanding.”
During public comment periods, one recurring theme was a request to reopen the meetings to seminar callers. Even more prominent were demands to defund the police to pay reparations. A cadre of speakers, most of whom have been regulars since the birth of the defund movement, took the city’s attempts to meet their demands halfway as proof that they should have their way, all the way.
Tashia Etheridge stated, “When you provide $30 million of funding for a police force that is destroying itself, that has outwardly stated that it cannot do its job, that we overpay to over-police our Black and Brown communities and children, I hear you saying that Black lives do not matter. And today I hold the Black youth, men, women, and siblings who will continue to be stalked and hunted by white supremacy in regalia, who we pay to disappear Black lives, rampage our communities, and turn our eyes from the systemic harms that these systems perpetuate.”
Daniel Young, a newcomer, said firefighters provide public safety, unlike the police, without “killin’ our kids.” He continued, “Y’all wanna jack the prices up on our houses. C’mon. That don’t make sense. Defund these police that wanna kill us. Kill us, the Black people, shootin’ our community up.”
Victoria Estes told a personal story about how the police had ruined her family by harassing her uncle and arresting him for petty thievery and trumped-up charges and holding him in jail, where he was “brutalized” for the rest of his life. “Nobody wants the police,” she concluded. Another person, whose name sounded like Cathy Fallon, also depicted law enforcement as the enemy of the innocent, saying her friends were raped and assaulted by police officers.
Grace Barron-Martinez told how people are still struggling with the trauma of being gassed and pepper-balled – because they were taking a stand against White supremacy. Now that the police have begun “defunding themselves,” she asked how the council intended to reinvest.
Nathan Prentice (a.k.a. Greenleaf Clarke) added that he had been, “assaulted by the White supremacist gang that these [motioning with his hand] two people in blue over here are part of.” He and others, he said, were assaulted because they were, “doing the work of abolitionists,” trying to take care of some of Asheville’s most vulnerable in homeless encampments. Cops, on the other hand, “are here to cause harm and create terror in our community.” He closed with, “Get on board with [helping Asheville’s neediest] or get out of the way.”
Former Vice Mayor Chris Peterson held a minority opinion. He agreed the city shouldn’t raise taxes, but that was because he considered leadership’s inability to cut 10 percent out of a $200 million budget, even with $2 million in federal COVID bailouts, incompetent. He said the reason the council couldn’t cut taxes was because they were a “one-party group,” and one-party groups, like Venezuela, Cuba, and China, burn books and tell people they can’t talk. After casting aspersions about the “race game” the city manager was playing, he said the “biggest group discriminated against” was the business community. They’re always neglected, but they’re, “who get to pay the bills whenever you need money.”
Peterson drew applause more than once. He also caused the mayor to caution that he was, “making a whole lot of police officers stand up in the back.”