I received this from Rev. Michelle Smith, who authored this powerful, positive letter to the City of Asheville’s leadership. Michelle has worked with me over the years, most notably in the “Shadow to Light” (S2L) program (which will be offered, in a new, dynamic format, this coming Fall, 2020).
June 9, 2020
Dear Council Members, Ms.Campbell, Ms. Ball, Mr. White, Chief Zack and Sheriff Quinton Miller,
Further I’m writing to charge and encourage you all to let the deliberation about the fulfillment of these demands be the beginning of our city’s transition into a 21st century public safety culture, model and structure that provides realistic, genuine safety for all.
In this request I am following the leadership of Black activist, attorney and wisdom teacher, Dr. Shariff Abdullah, author of Creating a World that Works for All and founder of the Commonway Institute.
We need a new policing story.
We must shift the narrative from one that centers those officers who’ve committed unlawful assault and murder or even those “good cops” and begin to center the experience of people who are impacted by the current model are having and want to have.
I ask that all dialogue and deliberation from this point on be guided by the question “What will be the nature of policing here in the 21st century?” It’s time for us to resolve that question for ourselves, as a city and community.
To ensure that the Black Asheville Demands result in lasting tangible change, we must do away with the 18th century policing culture and policing model. It served its purpose in the 18th century – largely the policing of black bodies and murder of black people. It serves neither the values nor the complexity of the 21st century. Let it go and let go of any demand that it be defended. At least long enough to make space for something new to emerge.
Leave behind the idea that we create security through fear and violence and force. The evidence is clear that this idea is unfounded, illogical and false. Stop supporting it. Stop teaching it. Stop believing it.
For one thing, criminals are becoming more weaponized than the police forces, which has led to an escalating arms race where the police are becoming more militarized in technology, tactics and consciousness. Accept that this is not working and leave this strategy behind. The evidence is in that this strategy has failed to support and ensure public safety.
For another thing, there’s an alternative.
Let us hold a vision where 10 years from now:
- Governance and public safety rely on each one of us to protect the rights of all and to be responsible to, with and for the well-being of all.
- All communities in Buncombe County are safe, all communities are free of violence and oppression of all kinds from all groups.
- Systems and structures are in place that support active and positive participation in the safety and well-being of our communities
- Citizens no longer have the choice to outsource our safety to a separate force while remaining unaware, unresponsive or uninvolved because just as citizens have a duty to serve on a jury, we are also expected and supported in serving on public safety.
- There are no uniformed armed police because we don’t need them.
- The public safety system consists of a blend of volunteer and professional roles filled by people from our communities who support and facilitate evidence based, trauma-informed strategies and tactics based on 21st century values of empathy, inclusivity and restorative justice.
- There is a small and well-armed force that can deal with people who do use a level of violence that warrants armed tactics.
Recognizing that this 21st century vision of public safety will have benefits through out our interconnected culture,
Recognizing that this vision requires systemic transformation that includes the participation of all parts of the community,
Recognizing that not all members of the system will respond cooperatively to change and we will need ways and means to deal with this resistance effectively at the diverse points in which it will arise,
Recognizing that the fulfillment of this vision will require new skill sets, processes and funding,
I charge and encourage you and us, the community who will be participating in these decision-making processes, to begin with safe experiments and learn as we move forward toward this vision. There are examples of successful transformations on this scale that we can be inspired by and learn from.
So again, I charge and encourage you all, while holding this vision and committing to participate in it’s fulfillment, to begin with the current budget and the Black Asheville Demands:
Divest from the police and invest in Black communities. 50% of the APD’s budget should be invested in long-term safety strategies including supporting Black startups/business, eliminating the racial opportunity gap in Asheville City Schools, and funding an all-civilian oversight committee with the power to hold the APD and individual officers accountable.
A decade from now you all can be the generation of leaders who led a cultural transformation that created a system of public safety that works for all and influences the world to do the same.
With full confidence of our ability to achieve this vision, I remain,
Your neighbor and partner,
Rev. Michelle K. Smith