A victory in Asheville for civil rights and communities of color

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We must always remember Rome was not built in a day. This is a story about an incredible victory that took place in Asheville, North Carolina in September 2013 where its residents organized to fight back against racist policing and to protect the rights of immigrant communities, and won. The Asheville Resolution that passed was a unanimous decision made by city council that now holds government officials liable for harassment and torture based of factors such as:  race, skin color, national or ethnic origin, gender, sexual orientation, mental or physical disability, religious or political opinion or activity, or immigration status.

How it began

In Asheville, communities of color almost exclusively were being targeted for discrimination at an alarming rate.  Cecil Bothwell, an organizer and former Asheville City Council member, sought out other residents who shared his concerns, and they began organizing. Not long after, the organizers began developing an anti-immigration resolution that sought to undo the deeply discriminatory laws existed long before September 11, 2001.

Who was involved

Bothwell explained that he was able to get the city to stand behind this effort because racist policing was an issue that affected all communities of color in the city.

“Many groups such as Asheville-Buncombe Community Relations Specialist, Latino Coalitions, and churches were eager to hold meetings making the community aware of the needed changes.”

He also mentioned that members of the Asheville Chapter of the ACLU helped to draft the contents of the resolution.  Several meetings were held throughout the city to engage and bring more people support the Asheville Resolution. Local government officials who shared the same ideals were also sought after.

How we garnered broader public support:

Gatherings were held at community shops and cafes, like the Fire Storm Café, a cooperative and activist hub that has long been involved in ending police brutality. The events featured trivia games that helped teach about civil rights, and picnics were also arranged for greater community involvement. The meetings had two purposes: to build and strengthen community, and also get grassroots organizers to find out more from other Asheville residents about positives and negatives in the community. Sarah Nuñez, formerly with the Asheville-Buncombe, stated how eager the community was to join the resolution process in the beginning. Kathryn Liss, an activist who served as the volunteer coordinator for the YWCA, Asheville’s Stand Against Racism, director of training for Asheville’s Meditation Center, and a board member of Building Bridges of Asheville, was at a city council meeting in which the resolution was adopted. Liss said:

“The day the resolution was to come before City Council there was another issue on the agenda regarding environmental concerns. This other issue was going to be discussed after the civil liberties resolution. I knew a lot of the people who were at the Council meeting to discuss the environmental issue and I knew they were there for that and not for the civil liberties measure, but I also knew that they would support the civil liberties measure since we share many causes. So when the civil liberties measure came up, I asked to speak then  asked the crowd to raise their hands if they supported [the Asheville Resolution]. Of course, most if not all of them(sic) raised their hands.  The mayor, Terry Bellamy, responded, ‘Oh, that is why so many people are still here.’  (It was already late in the evening.)  I knew that wasn’t why, but it showed a level of support that we could never have brought to the issue after so many postponements and false requests for people to show up.  However, I took advantage of the moment and the resolution passed without objection.

The importance of coalitions

We were able to pass the Asheville Resolution because there was broad and diverse representation of the public. Groups such as the YWCA, Relations Council, faith based, and student organizations stood together with demands, and a plan for implementation, before the city council. The balance of power shifted in favor of the people.

Passage of the Asheville Resolution

On October 26, 2013, the Asheville Resolution passed with a unanimous vote by the city council. Bothwell stated, “The resolution is not just for police officers, but for all government officials, and businesses in the city…discrimination will not be tolerated.”  The Asheville Resolution offers hope and can be used to empower towns and cities across the United States. Local coalitions and broader community enforced the Asheville Resolution, and it will continue to serve as a model for others to replicate until all of our rights are secure.