The RJC came together after the shooting of Michael Brown (Ferguson, MO) and Eric Garner (Staten Island, NY) in 2014. Since then Asheville has made National headlines for the shooting of Jerry “Jai” WIlliams in 2016, the beating of pedestrian Johnnie Rush by an APD officer in 2018, and data that shows Asheville has the worst racial disparities in traffic stops and the worst achievement gap in the state (indicating a real correlation of the school‐to-prison pipeline). In 2016-2017, the RJC worked collaboratively with the Asheville Police Department (APD) to significantly improve Use‐of‐Force Policies and implement de-escalation training through a community working group process. We recognize that in addition to changing policies and mandating new training, we have much work to do to improve relationships, build trust and better serve the communities most impacted by over-policing and racial profiling.
RJC is well positioned to make a significant impact because we have already established a working relationship with Quentin Miller, our new African American Buncombe County Sheriff, and are working with the APD Chief. Our community is very aware that racial disparities in traffic stops and arrest and citation charges have actually gotten worse over the last 5 years and our elected officials, press and larger community are ready to engage in strategies to reverse this appalling trend. We expect the newly implemented written consent policy will reduce the racial profiling statistics pertaining to traffic stops.
We believe the RJC has already made a significant impact in the Asheville and Buncombe Community, despite our challenges. With very little structure and support, we have sustained and increased relationships between NGOs and have expanded our reach to include more grassroots leaders and groups. The Racial Justice Coalition (RJC) has two co-chairs, currently Carmen Ramos-Kennedy and Gerry Leonard. The Racial Justice Coalition Community Liaison is Robert Thomas. The YWCA Asheville provides meeting space and staff support in terms of administrative support, event planning, community engagement, and office space.
Decisions are generally consensus, sometimes using a Dynamic Governance model to ensure all voices are heard equitably throughout the meeting. Smaller committees are formed out of the RJC to take action on particular details such as drafting the Memorandum of Understanding, surveying the community for input, or leading an event such as community-police forums that used a World Cafe model, and multiple Sheriff Candidate Forums. The RJC Emergency Response Team (ERT) was formed to get a broader perspective and become more nimble in our approach when responding to the community, press, and stakeholders – particularly in response to crises in the community, such as the shooting of Jerry “Jai” Williams, and during our work with the APD to review and revise their Use-of-Force Policies. The ERT includes the co-chairs and 2-4 other members who may possess particular insight, such as a legal or communications background, who collaboratively work to react quickly and equitably.
Racial Justice Coalition – 2014-2019 Highlights/Timeline
2013-2014 – Racial Equity Coalition: YWCA, ABIPA, Center for Diversity Education, Christians for United Community, Eagle Market St. CDC, and Asheville Buncombe Community Relations Council meet monthly to discuss and address strategies to eliminate racial disparities in Asheville. Jacksonville Florida Race Relations Progress Report considered.
August 9, 2014 – Police shoot Michael Brown in Ferguson Missouri
Late 2014 – Initial meeting of Racial Justice Coalition -. Reverend James Lee appeals to Nonprofits to join efforts of Black clergy. 14 organizations meet at the YWCA Asheville.
January 16, 2015 – Urgency before an emergency: Making Asheville a National Model – Guest editorial to the Asheville Citizen Times– signed by 14 founding members of the Racial Justice Coalition.
August 2015 – Building Trust with Law Enforcement – Over 100 people gather at the YMI Cultural Center, in a World Cafe format, to have conversations about building trust with law enforcement. Over 30 police officers and sheriff deputies participate including Sheriff Duncan and Police Chief, Tammy Hooper. Since that first event in August 2015, the RJC continues to work on ways to better build trust with young POC with the plan to hold “Know Your Rights” training where young people can attend.
February 5, 2016 – Memorandum of Understanding finalized and signed by 14 members of RJC. MOU describes members’ roles, leadership and crisis lead team.
July 2, 2016 – Shooting of Jerry “Jai” Williams – After the shooting of Jai “Jerry” Williams by an APD officer, RJC advocates for Asheville Police Chief to get ahead of the DA’s findings and SBI Report with new Use-of-Force Policies and de-escalation training.
November 17, 2016 – Use-of-Force Policies finalized. Community group included 6 members of RJC and other community leaders. Key outcomes:
- Officers can’t shoot a suspect in the back
- Officers can’t shoot into a moving car
- De-escalation training will be instituted for all police officers
- Body-worn camera training for all officers
- Taser training for all officers (only 20% trained at the time)
Late 2016-early 2017 – Community leaders participate in de-escalation training.
February 28, 2018 – Video shows APD officer beating Johnnie Rush for jaywalking. Video footage leaked that shows Officer Hickman beating Johnnie Rush for jaywalking, trespassing.
April 12, 2018 – Sheriff Primary Forum – RJC co-hosted event to bring attention to race and to center questions around Use of Force, de-escalation training and immigration issues. Over 150 people attended the forum held at Hill Street Baptist Church. The forum was live streamed and interpretation provided.
November 2018 – Sheriff Quentin Miller elected – First African American Sheriff in Buncombe County
January 2019 – Sheriff Miller meets with RJC
February 2019 – Interim Police Chief, Wade Wood meets with RJC
May 2019 – Racial Justice Coalition is awarded the Collaborative Problem Solving Grant- Allowing the RJC to build out capacity.
October 2019 – Written Consent Policy Passed
November 14, 2019 – Racial Justice Community Liaison hired – Robert Thomas Jr.
November 2019 – Interim Police Chief, Robert White, meets with the RJC – Interim Police Chief White meets with the RJC to explain the written consent policy.
Leadership has rotated fairly organically. After co-founding the RJC, Rev. James Lee, and Beth Maczka, CEO of the YWCA, stepped down after 2 1/2 years. Kate Pett, CEO of the ACSF and Lucia Daugherty, former director of the Community Relations Council, stepped forward for a time. They were succeeded by Carmen Ramos‐Kennedy and Gerry Leonard. The Racial Justice Coalition (RJC) formed in December 2014. Following the tragedy in Ferguson, Missouri. Reverend James Lee wrote a call to action in the paper inviting clergy and nonprofits to work together to address potential conflicts with law enforcement. Beth Maczka, CEO of the YWCA, was already meeting with 6 organizations focused on Racial Justice and invited Rev Lee to meet with the group. Nonprofit organizations that were already meeting included YWCA Asheville, NAACP, ABIPA, Christians for United Community, Center for Diversity Education, and the Asheville Buncombe Community Relations Council. Other groups invited to the first meeting included the ACLU, Building Bridges, Elders Fierce for Justice, Asheville City Schools Foundation, Carolina Jews for Justice, Democracy NC, Children First/Communities in Schools and the Residents Council of the Asheville Housing Authority.
An early event of the RJC was the World Cafe Meeting between the community and law enforcement. Over 100 people gathered at the YMI Cultural Center including over 30 law enforcement officers representing both the APD and the Sheriff’s Department. While the discussion on trust and how to build trust were valuable and officers appreciated the opportunity to dialogue with the community, most POC were older and there were few, if any, young Black men present, as they are disproportionately targeted by police. Investing in the RJC will shore up a strong community-based coalition and resource it for the next phase of work to more deeply connect with the people most impacted by racial profiling.