A very smart white friend of mine was ranting the other day about why the race of our new sheriff doesn’t make any difference to her. “Black, white, yellow – they’re all the same to me. I don’t see colors. I don’t care what color the sheriff is.” Here’s why I think she – we – should care.
All these years after the Civil Rights Movement, black people don’t experience the same civil rights that white people do. And one of the areas where their civil rights are most routinely violated is in their encounters with police. They are arrested at higher rates, incarcerated at shockingly higher rates and for longer sentences for the same crimes. And the Black Lives Matter movement did not come out of nowhere: unarmed black people (mostly but not all men) are shot and killed by police at a desperately higher rate than white men. They are treated by police as if their lives don’t matter.
There was a very disturbing case in Asheville last summer, captured by police body cams and then leaked to the public, where an unarmed black man was arrested for j-walking. (J-walking! I routinely cross the street illegally with a lot of confidence that I will not be arrested or even cited for it. That confidence – with me being white – was not shaken by this case.) He was man-handled, choked (repeatedly gasping “I can’t breathe” – he could have died), and had his head several times bashed against the sidewalk. That video went viral and confirmed black people’s most cynical – I would say traumatized – fears of how they are treated by police, not in Baltimore but here in Asheville.
A black mayor, Terry Bellamy, helped soften the feeling of being disenfranchised. A very non-prejudiced white District Attorney Todd Williams, who has actively developed programs to get harmless black men out of the criminal justice system (flying in the face of the previous administration which consistently went for maximum prosecutions and maximum sentences) has helped.
But the police are the point of contact between citizens and the criminal justice system. Quentin Miller has terrific credentials, including serving in the Asheville Police Department for 24 years. He’s the perfect person for the job. When you go to the polls (starting today) and vote for the Buncombe County Sheriff, don’t be color-blind, be color-conscious.