RJC Accomplishments 2020
WNC Response to COVID-19 for Those in Custody
At the onset of COVID-19 in early March, the Racial Justice Coalition had come to the conclusion that individuals who were incarcerated would be at high risk for contracting COVID-19 because of the living conditions inside our prison system. We created this Facebook page to provide information to those with loved ones inside jail and prison. Noel Nickel and other group members do an excellent job of keeping the page updated with calls to action, policy changes, information on the population decrease of the Buncombe County Detention Facility, and the experiences of those in custody. We also created a campaign for decarceration on social media and within news press releases.
Supporting community work directly related to COVID-19 response
The RJC reallocated its $36,000 partner participation support funding and gave $6,000 grants to 3 member organizations doing community work directly related to COVID-19 response. We took the remaining $18,000 and created six $3,000 grants for grassroots organizations that were doing COVID-19 response work and in need of funding.
Developing a Volunteer Base
Historically, the RJC relied almost exclusively on the energy and support of its member organizations, but this presented limitations because these organizations had to keep their primary focus on their own work. With the onset of the pandemic, many organizations were having to pivot to effectively respond to the crisis. We decided to prioritize recruiting a volunteer base that would report to and act on behalf of the RJC. Starting in April, we invited members of the public concerned about issues of racial justice to join the RJC Advocacy Team, which meant committing to answering regular calls to action by emailing and/or calling public officials to push for policy change. From an initial team of 40, we have grown to 1500, with over 100 committed volunteers who are part of various other teams and initiatives.
- Total Calls to Action since April 2020 – 23
- Total reported Phone Calls made by Advocacy Team members – 952
- Total reported Emails sent by Advocacy Team members – 4014
One of the first campaigns we mobilized the Advocacy Team on was the use of special COVID Community Development Block Grants to pay for rental assistance. The city was initially planning to use these funds for other projects, but they changed course in large part because of the calls and emails we generated.
- Advocacy Team members taking action – 51
- Result – $400,000 allocated for rental assistance
- $199,999.95 to Pisgah Legal Services
- $199,999.95 to Homeward Bound
Rush / Hickman Case
Chris Hickman, a white former APD officer, viciously attacked and beat a local Black man named Johnny Rush in 2017. In 2019, Hickman was offered a restorative justice plea bargain, which required him to do substantial community service and participate in a community healing process overseen by a restorative justice facilitator. RJC participated with Just Us throughout the year with the goal of ensuring that Hickman’s probation was satisfactorily completed. When it became clear that Hickman’s probation would expire without him having met any of the requirements pertaining to addressing community harm, laid out in his plea transcriptl, we advocated for his probation to be extended.
- Advocacy Team members taking action – 89
- Result – Hickman hearing (and end of his probation) postponed
Racial Justice Coalition Website
At the end of March and beginning of April, the popularity of the RJC had expanded greatly. With a growing volunteer base and community members who wanted to learn more about how to get involved with the RJC, we identified that we needed a website. Code for Asheville, a member organization of the RJC, assisted by helping us create rjcavl.org and continually keeping it updated. They also provide tech support for our advocacy team.
June 6 Protest
On June 6, under the leadership of the Black Asheville Demands and the Racial Justice Coalition, thousands of people gathered in downtown Asheville for a march and rally calling for an end to police violence against the Black community. RJC took the lead in organizing a march safety and security team, recruiting and training hundreds of volunteers.
- Volunteers recruited – 376
- Result – Asheville City Council postponed final budget approval four days later in order to consider revisions to the police budget
Police Excessive Force
In late June, Asheville Police Chief David Zack reported at the monthly Public Safety Committee hearing that there had been “no formal complaints” made against the police during the uprising that followed the murder of George Floyd. Suspecting that this lack of reports was a likely consequence of understandable mistrust of the police, we emailed our member list, asking for survivors of excessive force to share their stories with us. We heard from 32 people.. We made contact with two local attorneys who agreed to advise these folks about their legal options. We got some media attention and were able to combat the City’s inaccurate narrative. Most recently, 20 official complaints were filed, many of them anonymous through one of these attorneys, and we are in the midst of negotiating with the City for how these stories can be told in a public setting.
Divest / Invest
Following up on our success in delaying the original budget, we continued to lobby the City to adopt a “divest / invest” model to reimagining public safety. We urged the City to set the goal of divesting 50% from the police budget in order to invest in the Black community and alternative means for advancing public safety. In response, the City Manager carried out a 30/60/90 day plan, with the stated goal of addressing these issues. The process was often not carried out with great transparency, which we kept pushing for, and it became clear that the City Manager was primarily looking for very small initial steps, with the promise that more would come down the road. We kept pushing for more aspirational policy changes, but ultimately were only able to get a small shift of resources out of the police budget for this fiscal year.
- Advocacy Team members taking action – 560
- Result – $770,000 removed from the police budget, a 2.6% decrease, rather than the 1.4% increase that was originally planned
Remove Racist Monuments
We successfully lobbied both the City and County to pass resolutions calling for the removal or replacement of racist monuments on public property.
- Advocacy Team members taking action – 237
- Result – both City and County approved the resolutions, most monuments have already been removed, and there is a commission meeting to make recommendations for the largest and most central monument.
We rallied support for a reparations resolution at both the City and County level, becoming the first city and county in the South to commit to a reparations path for their Black community members.
- Advocacy Team members taking action – 739
- Result – both City and County approved resolutions, leading to the formation of a joint commission that will make implementation recommendations.