By JéWana Grier-McEachin –
The number seven is often equated with rest or completion.
June 6, 2020, was the seventh day of protest in honor of George Floyd, whose life was senselessly snuffed out under the knee of excessive force.
It could be said that instead, this seventh day was a day of unrest—and just the beginning.
Over 1,000 citizens marched in solidarity and humanity for all of the Black Lives that Matter, seen and unseen, and calling for systemic change for policing and community building locally. The organizing group of young Asheville leaders’ planning and detailed organizing resulted in a peaceful protest of precision.
The march began at the historic YMI Cultural Center with inspirational words from Libby Kyles, who made it clear that she was showing up not as the CEO of the YWCA of Asheville, but rather as Libby Mae Kyles, native of Asheville, granddaughter of Libby Mae Kyles Smith, a daughter, a mother, aunt, and community member who wants something different for her daughter and her community.
Marching orders were given by Zaria Abdulkarim, and the first stop was the Asheville Police Department. Police Chief David Zack addressed the crowd for several minutes, thanking them for being there and stating he understood the injustices that occurred throughout our history and pain that has been inflected upon black people throughout the history of law enforcement.
“In our profession there is no question, it requires action and requires change,” Chief Zack said, adding that there was no speech that he could make to help. “Words don’t heal people, words don’t make things better, what makes things better is when the community sees change.” He said he believes in making that change, and that “one man, one woman can’t do it but each of us have to do our part,” and that he was there to do his.
Chief Zack went on to say that plans are being made but he didn’t come to give an outline, rather he came out to “tell you who I am.” Following the chief’s address, a community member stepped to the mic and said that he thought the chief was brought here for change, referencing an incident four years ago when “a young black man was executed in the streets.”
Several other participants shared their thoughts and presented a short list of demands:
Divestment and re-funding: We demand a divestment from the police and investment in black communities. 50% of the APD’s budget should be invested in long-term safety strategies including supporting black startups/businesses, 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.
Reparations: We demand repair for past and continuing harms of Asheville’s black community.
Monuments: We demand that Asheville city government remove the Vance and Robert E. Lee monuments and replace them with monuments that honor the many black Ashevillians who have built this city. We demand that streets named after slave owners also be replaced with names of former local black leaders.
End the war on black people: We demand not just individual accountability for officers after lethal or violent use of force, but for accountability for the entire Asheville Police Department.
Systemic change: We demand an end to the systemic harms inflicted on all black people (including black trans, queer and gender-nonconforming people).
Names of other black men and women who have been slain over the years were also read in memorial. At each pause, young activists shared their passion and their personal power to inspire the masses to continue to push for change. The crowd was implored to vote and to fill out their census questionnaire as a call to action beyond the march. The elders who were not able to be present, as they shelter in place due to COVID-19, were acknowledged for their tireless work for the cause and the senselessness of the fight still having to be fought after all they sacrificed.
The fire in the bellies of those present exhibited their commitment to carry the mantle to the finish line. There will be no rest until local policy reflects NO tolerance of racial injustice and excessive force used by police and restorative reparations are made.
We can’t stop. We won’t stop!