ASHEVILLE – A leading social justice activist who organized the city’s biggest day of protests against police violence has announced he is running for mayor.
Michael Hayes, executive director of the nonprofit Umoja Health, Wellness and Justice Collective, said he would make an offer in 2022 for Asheville’s top job, though his announcement was accompanied by a unusual warning.
A leading local voice on social justice, race and children’s issues, Hayes, 54, made a short statement on Facebook on October 26, saying âDear Asheville, I am running for mayor !!! Stay tuned…”
He ended the post, however, saying he would quit the race if former city council member Keith Young decided to run. Young led several racial justice initiatives while on the board, including a landmark initiative to grant reparations to black residents, but lost his 2020 re-election bid.
“If Keith Young runs for mayor, then I will give up my supporters will be backing him!” said Hayes.
Hayes and Young are both black. The current board is historic in its demographics: all members are women and three of the seven members are black, despite a shrinking African American population that now represents 11% of residents.
It is not clear whether Mayor Esther Manheimer plans to run for a third term. When asked about the plans on November 4, Manheimer, a land use lawyer, said she couldn’t respond immediately. Council races are non-partisan and involve four-year terms. Council elections were held in odd-numbered years until 2020.
Hayes helped organize the biggest day of protests after the police murder of Black Minneapolis resident George Floyd, drawing more than 1000 in the streets of Asheville June 6. The event was supposed to focus on the role of young people in eradicating police brutality and racism because “they are the voice of this whole protest,” he said.
In 2018, he spoke to council in favor of a proposal by Young to require police to obtain written consent for voluntary searches of motorists. This came after statistics showed Asheville police disproportionately arrest and search black drivers and passengers despite finding smuggling on white motorists more often.
Hayes said he trusted Officer Craig Loveland who spoke out against the measure and saw him as his brother, but said the issue was “that everyone be held accountable.”
In 2019, he objected to the release of gang data by Asheville Police, according to which there were 65 gangs in and around Asheville and 1,100 gang members.
Hayes, who founded the Urban Arts Institute of WNC and offered programs to some of Asheville’s poorest communities, said he was concerned that an increase in gang talk could lead to “zero tolerance” approaches in which officers feel they have “the right to shoot first and ask questions later”.
He could not be reached for comment on November 4. On November 1, Hayes posted a photo of himself and his late father, the local NAACP president. John hayes who for years was known for his vocal emphasis on fairness and justice for black residents of Asheville.
âSome days are more difficult than others,â said Hayes. “Today is one. I write my campaign vision and remember so many of our conversations.”
Young, 41, commenting Nov. 4 to the Citizen Times, said he knew Hayes and his father and was âalways happy to see people with the courage to serve make such a life-changing commitment. takes a special type of person to run. I applaud bravery. “
There was a “strong push from the old supporters and the new ones I’m leading,” Young said, adding, “This city wasn’t ready for my first act. I’m not sure how they would feel afterwards. a second.”
Joel Burgess has lived at WNC for over 20 years, covering politics, government and other news. He has written award-winning stories on topics ranging from gerrymandering to police use of force. Help us support this kind of journalism with a subscription at the Citizen Times.
This article originally appeared on Asheville Citizen Times: Asheville protest leader and social justice activist’s plans come forward for mayor