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  • Douglas Oeser

Racial Disparity Among Homicide Victims in Asheville, NC

From January 2016 to December 2020, there were 45 reported victims of homicide in Asheville, NC and over half of those victims were Black. In a city of approximately 93,000 residents with about 12% identifying as Black, 62% of homicide victims since 2016 have been Black. Below you will find a table listing every reported homicide within Asheville over the past five years in chronological order; each with the name of the victim, a link to a public news article, and a column indicating the victim’s race. In that table, you will find 28 names that belong to Black victims and tragically multiple children.

Keithan Whitmire and Harmony Smith were 15 and 13 years old respectively when they were murdered alongside their mother, Erica Smith. Derrick Lee Jr was 12 years old when he was the victim of a shooting. K'syon Finley died two weeks after being born to Tiyquasha Simuel, who was shot and killed just after she testified in a homicide case. Each and every one of the 45 lives lost is unimaginably tragic, but the simple fact is that at this disproportionate rate, Asheville is significantly more dangerous for Black residents than White.

According to the U.S. Census, in 2019 approximately 78,000 Asheville residents identified as White alone while approximately only 10,400 identified as Black alone. Therefore, since there were 16 White victims that means that roughly 1 out of every 4,875 White residents died of homicide over the past five years. For Black residents, it was 1 out of every 371. That is a deeply disturbing disparity and one that requires immediate action.

The City of Asheville has taken several actions to address racial inequities within recent years. The Office of Equity & Inclusion was established with the purpose of promoting equity through “understanding, analyzing and eliminating the root causes of racial disparities, and advancing equitable policies, practices and procedures.” The City Council passed a reparations initiative that seeks to increase homeownership and business opportunities for Black residents. In November 2020, a task force jointly appointed by the Asheville City Council and Buncombe County Board of Commissioners voted to remove the downtown Asheville obelisk named after Zebulon Vance in order to “address the symbols that linger from the Civil War and Jim Crow that foster hate and racial terrorism.” These are among many strides made by our community to address systemic inequities and harms that have plagued us for far too long. I believe that addressing the current homicide rate through preventative measures coordinated by a coalition of community and city officials is the next step on the path towards a better tomorrow.

All views and opinions expressed on this website are my own and do not represent the opinions of any entity with which I have been, am now, or will be affiliated. All data provided is publicly sourced and referenced. For more information about my intent, please read What's the Point?


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