Both violence and the justice system have inequitable impacts on Black people living in Buncombe County. The SJC Racial Equity Workgroup has found significant disparity in demographics of people entering jail and length of stay (LOS) due to violent felonies: in 2019, 37% of people released for a violent felony during a nine month period were Black, and on average they had been in custody 21 days longer than their White counterparts. These disparities were exacerbated during the pandemic, and were a major driver of increased inequities in jail during the height of the pandemic response. While people charged with less serious felonies and misdemeanors were having bonds unsecured/reduced or cases quickly resolved, people charged with more serious violent felonies remained in custody.
Concerns around safety also emerged as a theme in listening sessions hosted by the Community Engagement Workgroup prior to the pandemic. Community concerns are reinforced by data showing the disproportionate impact violence is having on Black people living in Asheville - approximately 63-71% of gun violence victims in Asheville are Black. In the first seven months of 2020, there were nine homicides, seven of the victims were Black men. In 2019, Black people represented 6.3 percent of Buncombe County’s population, yet comprised 25 percent of the jail population and 69 percent of gun violence victims. The pandemic has exacerbated the stressors that drive violence as root causes that fuel cycles of violence, including intersecting trauma and stress, have been intensified during the pandemic. Community members have voiced a strong desire for investment in community-led approaches to support safety in their communities.
Progress: Building on strategies to-date, in partnership with the County, SJC Community Partners launched a new Community Safety Initiative in 2020 to work with community partners to identify strategies to address violence and work towards community healing, through:
- Investing in community-led initiatives in partnership with the SPARC Foundation; My Daddy Taught Me That; Umoja Health, Wellness, and Justice Collective; and the Racial Justice Coalition. In the spring of 2021, WLOS interviewed the team about the start of this work to address community violence.
- Engaging stakeholders in developing a collaborative and coordinated plan to prevent and respond to community violence: the SJC is partnering with Jordan Peer Recovery to bring together system stakeholders and community members to develop a collaborative and coordinated plan to prevent and respond to community violence, and is developing a technical assistance partnership with the Prevention Institute, which provides TA for communities across the country doing violence prevention work.