Two weeks ago, at the request of city council candidate Dee Williams, Asheville City Council heard a report from Ian Mance, an attorney for the Durham-based Southern Coalition for Social Justice. The organization works toward change on a broad scope of empowerment issues, from same-day voter registration to Ban the Box to the rights of the undocumented. Williams wanted Mance to share low-cost/no-cost policies the Asheville Police Department could adopt to reduce institutional racism. Mance shared those policies as well as some statistical anomalies that appropriately warranted an explanation.
The next step was to hear APD’s response ASAP. So, Tuesday, Deputy Chief Wade Wood stood in for Chief Tammy Hooper, who was at a police fundraiser in Washington, DC. Wood began with the latest in disarming strategies, a claim, later repeated by Williams, that racism could never be totally eliminated in an organization. It was as if leadership viewed racism like alcoholism, as hard-wired to body chemistry, and thus never curable – as if volition and self-control are no longer human traits.
The written rebuttal, which read very well for a government report, attributed imputation of racial profiling as motivation for regulatory stops to the classic cum hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. The average Black Asheville citizen earns less than his White counterpart and is thus more likely to defer vehicle maintenance. Explaining the precipitous drop in police stops, the report reminded the public the police department had been unable to use radar for about a year. Challenges to the calibration of the devices had led to cessation of their use, and the department had to await recertification from the state. Then, the SBI managed to lose data for 1310 out of 8719 traffic stops the city reported in 2015.
As for the recommendations, the department is already conducting internal audits more frequently than other large cities in the state. The suggestion that APD deprioritize regulatory stops was moot because they had never been a priority, and in February, officers were instructed to handle them with warnings instead of citations. While some North Carolina jurisdictions have imposed restrictions on regulatory stops, no comparables have strictly prohibited them. Lastly, the chief deemed bodycams more effective for documenting events than signed consent-to-search forms. As Councilor Julie Mayfield pointed out, and as Buncombe County taxpayers are learning by sad experience, the area is no stranger to forced consent.
Surprise Comment –
Council later voted to waive its rules to allow public comment on the subject. The move was not spontaneous, since Mance had come from Durham with prepared remarks and Councilor Cecil Bothwell had stated he expected Mance would comment. Rondell Lance, president of the local Fraternal Order of Police, called attention to issues of openness and fairness associated with council waiving its rules. He had hurried back to the chambers when he learned of the change. Cat Kerr requested time to regroup, since she had to recover re-qualified content she had stricken from her presentation. She and others evoked sentiments along the lines of, “Don’t treat people like projects.”
Following a stream of criticism and suggestions for law enforcement, Lance began, “It’s funny to sit here and see how terrible and how bad the Asheville Police Department is, how bad the men and women of the APD are. It’s no wonder that we’re losing two or three a month. It’s no wonder that the detective office is down now 50 percent.” After talking about how the department is sacrificing training and feet on the street to compensate for attrition, he added, “I don’t blame them. Why would anybody want to come and work for a police department that’s as bad as it is, as you’ve heard tonight. Why would anybody? I would encourage anybody: Do not come work for the APD. Stay away!”
Lance next told of sergeants telling him about officers who are so afraid of getting sued, they’re not patrolling. They park somewhere and sit in their cars until they receive a call. He vouched for the integrity of the officers as he spoke against making it harder for them to do their jobs. “These men and women are out there,” he said. “They know the law. We’re scrutinized. Anything we stop, it goes to court, the judge looks at it, the DA looks at it, the defense attorneys look at it. We’re scrutinized every way we go.” He criticized council for “acting like the Supreme Court” and deciding what else the officers will not be allowed to do. Written consents, he said, would add nothing. They can be forged, claimed to be forged, and allegedly signed under duress.
As for racial disparity, Lance said, “Since 1993, we have been mandated. We have been paid thousands of dollars by the Asheville housing authority to be in the minority community in these complexes. … They have twelve officers a night inside the minority community, stopping cars wherever you can. We had people from five counties coming over here buying dope. We had open-air drug markets. … We’ve been told since 1993, by the housing authority, ‘Spend time in these neighborhoods.’ And you would think, surely it’s changed since 1993, but I was at CPAC [the Citizens/Police Advisory Committee meeting]. Know what their complaint was? ‘What are the police going to do about the shootings that are up in the housing complexes? The drug overdoses that are up in the housing complexes? …’ I’ve been told to be there and write tickets and stop cars, or you’re not going to work.”
Last year, in order, the city’s hottest crime spots were downtown, Pisgah View, Hillcrest, Deaverview, and Walmart. Pisgah View and the Burton Street neighborhood were, for many years, part of an intensive federal Weed & Seed program designed to eliminate drug crime through traditional and community policing efforts. In other words, the police are going, inasmuch as possible, where there are calls for service or other requests for help. Lance then pointed out that people would always complain that there were too many and too few police officers. In so doing, he alluded to a modern trend that denies the power of self-control and personal accountability. Those who commit criminal acts are viewed as victims of some other group of people, like the police, who aren’t stopping them.
In Other Matters –
While on the subject of humankind’s dependence on government to compensate for personal choices, council’s agenda smacked of feudalism. Feudalism helped commoners survive the appropriately-named Dark Ages. It was a system whereby lords granted peasants the use of land so they could live under the lord’s wing and work the soil. In exchange, the peasants vowed fealty and service. So, an update of the city’s Food Policy Action Plan celebrated three programs allowing citizens to lease or work city-owned land to help ameliorate Asheville’s food crisis.
While local government is helping with food, the overlords in Washington are working on shelter. Council went through the formality of hearing staff’s plan for allocating over $2 million in federal HUD funds via the HOME and CDBG programs. But a last-minute shakeup had rendered the published report obsolete. The housing authority had magnanimously offered to remove itself from the running, having asked $179,703 for Lee Walker Heights redevelopment. The city always receives more requests than it can fund, so by pulling out, the housing authority allowed all other applicants to be fully funded. The unused balance would then be made available for a second round of funding this year.
HACA leadership suggested funding its needs through the city’s affordable housing bond proceeds. As Councilor Gordon Smith noted, 70 percent of voters, by way of the recent referendum, approved the city going $74 million in debt, even though it translated to a 3-cent-per-$100-valuation increase to the tax rate. $25 million of that amount was to be spent on affordable housing and another $17 million was for parks and recreation. But for the first year, city staff was only going to be doing planning and design on those initiatives, whereas actual construction would occur with the $32 million approved for streets and sidewalks.
Cathy Ball, who is always willing to fill in for high-level vacancies and head newly-restructured initiatives and will probably change titles five times again before this is printed, suggested that council accept HACA’s offer to withdraw but let city staff search for other sources of funding that may be more appropriate. Mayor Esther Manheimer was game, but insisted the city document its commitment, because every few months, council has to check on the latest in Lee Walker funding strategies.
So much for philosophers who argue there is no liberty without property rights. John Locke and others reasoned free people create government to protect their persons and property, but when people rely on government for bare necessities, they live at the mercy of those with the power to withhold them.