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Posts published in “Local Voices”

Reparations, Six Months Later: So Far, Empty Promises

Asheville’s Dwindling Black Population Remains Skeptical

Valley Street, ca. 1949. Photo by Juanita Wilson

Six months ago, as part of a reckoning on racial injustice, the City of Asheville and Buncombe County both passed resolutions to consider reparations to the Black community as a way to begin making amends for slavery and generations of systemic discrimination. The votes were hailed as “historic” by The Asheville Citizen Times, and ABC News asked, “Is Asheville a national model?”

Since then, local officials concede, little has been done. Some in the Black community see zero progress.

“From my understanding, they’ve done nothing,” said Rob Thomas, community liaison for the Racial Justice Coalition. 

Despite the fanfare they received at the time, the reparations resolutions are in limbo, still as lacking in specific remedies as they are in financial commitment or engagement with the Black community. The Asheville resolution called for the creation of a Community Reparations Commission to begin drafting recommendations.


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The police chief who gave meaning to Serve and Protect

Tom Fiedler reflects on policing through unrest from another era

Rocky Pomerance (left) with U.S. Rep. Claude Pepper in 1974.

The legendary Miami Beach police chief Rocky Pomerance was asked in an interview with People magazine why he so passionately believed in the importance of police work.  “Because,” he said, “we are the only social-service agency you can call on for help after 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.”

Characterizing the police as a social-service agency isn’t likely what comes to most minds nowadays, and certainly not among people of color.  Burned in memory here in Asheville are photographs of Asheville police destroying a makeshift street clinic set up by local medical workers to assist protesters, an action so mindless that even the police chief apologized for it two days later.  These images are creating an equally mindless battle cry of “Defund the Police” as if the root problem is one of municipal budget allocation. 

This isn’t policing as Rocky Pomerance practiced it during one of the nation’s most turbulent periods of public unrest. 



Inside Monday’s protest in downtown Asheville

A stranger poured milk on Mark MacNamara to soothe the effects of tear gas.

June 1st.  Night.

A few minutes before the first explosion a black woman stopped to say,  “It’s nice to see another older person.” She patted my arm. “You too,” I replied. Such kind eyes, I thought and reached out to touch back but she was gone.  I was standing just up from the police station, under the sign that reads, “Young Men’s Institution. Established 1892 as center of social, moral, religious influence for blacks working at Biltmore.”

The crowd was closely packed, but not a mob, which must always carry on its back its twin brother, lynch.  Altogether, the faces were mostly white, college looking, no one over 30, plenty of voyeurs, no apparent flower children, street people, drunkos or wackos, and only the rare person not wearing a virus mask, but of course you’re thinking, how many new cases are going to come out of this?


Local Boutiques Struggle to Survive

Judith Oster in front of her store Caravans in the Grove Arcade.

While every small business is suffering due to the coronavirus lockdown, Asheville’s boutique apparel stores face their own financial and operational challenges. 

In an industry that relies on foot traffic, they must adapt to remote operations to weather the state-mandated closure of their brick-and-mortar locations.

The downtown area – the crown jewel of Asheville’s tourism industry – is not only feeling the financial ramifications; it’s facing an identity crisis as well. Its image is quirky, independent and small. Of the 222 businesses that responded to a 2018 survey of the Asheville Downtown Association, 116 said they employed fewer than 10 staff members, according to Meghan Rogers, executive director. 

“We are the foundation, we’re the image, we’re what you get, the mom and pop [shops],” said Judith Oster, the owner of Caravans on 1 Page Ave. in the Grove Arcade.