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Leaders of Asheville's African American Community React to Hickman Plea Deal

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The victim of a police beating spoke out for the first time this month about the plea deal the former Asheville officer charged for the incident received.  Leaders of the city’s African American community are offering up similar mixed reactions to the settlement in the case involving Chris Hickman. 

Hickman last month pleaded guilty to felony assault for brutally beating and choking a black pedestrian suspected of jaywalking in August 2017. But that and other charges could be dismissed in a year, if he participates in what’s being called a first-of-its-kind restorative justice plea agreement. 

“I know there are people who feel like he should have actually served some time,"  Rev. Dr. John Grant of Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church said. 

"I don’t have an opinion of that frankly, I just think he should be held accountable under the law, whatever that is.” 

Rev. Grant says he and other black clergy have been regularly meeting with the APD to work on sensitivity in policing. 

"That to me involves a respectful dialogue between the department and the community. And as I’ve said before, holding officers accountable, especially in a case like this, where a guy was jaywalking and he ended up being beat up by the police," Grant said.  

But Damita Wilder, pastor of AME Zion Church, had a slightly different reaction to the news that Hickman could get his record expunged. 

"I was not surprised, that’s my answer. I didn’t feel anger or anything like that, I feel that’s not productive," Wilder said. 

Wilder says she wasn’t surprised, but saddened nevertheless.

"It makes me realize there is more that we have to do in our communities. Also, to make sure we build relationships. That’s what we’re trying to do," Wilder said.  

Wilder says rather than focusing solely on changing the culture and practices within local law enforcement, more needs to be done to empower Asheville’s black youth. 

"There will be another group of young African American males growing up, and we don’t want them to grow up in the same environment," wilder said. 

Community activist Olufemi Lewis says the settlement has perpetuated a feeling of hopelessness. 

"We’ve become numb, and really don’t have expectations of justice. We understand that the judicial system in the United States wasn’t designed for black people, brown people, period," Lewis said. "It wasn’t designed for us to get any justice." 

But she says it presents an opportunity for Asheville’s black community to bond together and hold city government accountable. 

The police department this month announced it’s conducting a peer intervention training aimed to teach officers how to stop a wrongful action by a fellow officer before it occurs. It’s one of several measures recommended by an outside consultant, in response to the Hickman incident.