Asheville, NC – With its beautiful mountain surroundings and sky filled views, this Western North Carolina destination has grown to become a top tourist and retirement destination. But in recent days, the city of Asheville, North Carolina, has made a name for itself in a police brutality case that has made national headlines.
One third the size of Atlanta, Georgia, and the same exact size of San Francisco, California, but with the population less than 90,000. Asheville, North Carolina is the biggest city in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina. According to editors of Asheville’s Wikipedia page (Asheville, NC, Wikipedia), the city’s racial demographics are: 77.95% White, 17.61% Black or African American, 3.76% Hispanic or Latino American, 0.92% Asian American, 0.35% Native American, 0.06% Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, 1.53% some other race, and 1.58% two or more races.
The arrest of a former police officer, Chris Hickman, 31, comes as no surprise to many residents who have lived in the city their entire lives. Hickman was arrested for the excessive use of force while arresting Asheville resident, Johnnie Jermaine Rush, a 33-year-old African-American resident. In a police cam video that was released by the Asheville Police Department shows Hickman beating Rush in the head and tasing him after he is secured to the ground. Also in the video, Hickman is heard telling another officer, “I beat the shit out of his head. I ain’t going to lie about that.”
The incident occurred in August 2017, and Hickman was removed from patrol duty the following day after it happened. The Asheville Police Department did not release details of the event until February after Hickman resigned from the department before they could fire him. After reviewing hours of Hickman’s body cam footage, the APD found other encounters that he was rude and discourteous during stops.
Resisting arrest and second-degree assault charges were dropped against Rush, and Hickman was arrested for assault by strangulation, assault inflicting serious injury and communicating threats.
A town hall meeting style Q&A was hosted by the city to address residents’ anger and concerns. Many Black residents already feeling as if they don’t have a voice in their very own town, it is causing younger residents to move away from this very city that many are trying to move into.
But what about the deaths of Lacy Pickens in 2006, who was shot multiple times when trying to elude police at a local Cracker Barrel. In 2016, Jai “Jerry” Williams was shot by Sgt. Tyler Radford in the entrance of Deaverview Apartments after claiming he feared for his life after seeing Williams with an AR-15.
The last two remaining majority Black communities of Asheville, East End, and Shiloh are thriving, but numbers are slowly dwindling as well as the cost of living is increasing and lack of government assistance. Government housing development, Lee Walker Heights, is transitioning into a mixed-use development, and other housing developments such as Hillcrest, Deaverview, Klondike, Pisgah View, and Hillcrest is bound to meet such fate soon or later as well.
For generations, the once popular downtown hangout location for Blacks was known as, “the Block,” an intersection centered on Eagle and Market Streets. You could go to Jolly Cab to catch a ride home and/or grab something to drink in it’s combined corner store, Ritz to grab a fish dinner while playing a game of spades, the Rap Zone where teenagers partied all night, across the street at the Del Cardo where grown folks clubbed, around the corner where Rev. Henry cut hair and a number of other small Black-owned businesses in the area. Now the entire intersection has been gentrified, and the annual African heritage festival, “Goombay,” significantly downsized to prevent public disturbance of residents in the area and relocated to Pack Square Park.
When will their voices start being heard?