As It Happens

Time to weed out white supremacist officers, N.C. councillor says after police beating

Asheville Coun. Sheneika Smith says it's time to screen police for "the pathology of hatred" after an officer was caught on camera beating a black man.
The police beating of 33-year-old Johnnie Jermaine Rush in Asheville, N.C, by officer Christopher Hickman became public after the Citizen-Times newspaper published this body-cam footage last week. (The Citizen-Times)

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A city councillor in the North Carolina city where a police officer was caught on camera beating a black man accused of jaywalking says it's time to screen police officers for "the pathology of hatred."

The FBI has opened a criminal investigation into Christopher Hickman, a white police officer in Asheville, N.C., shown on body camera footage shocking 33-year-old Johnnie Jermaine Rush with a stun gun and repeatedly punching him on Aug. 25, 2017. ​

Hickman resigned in January. The case became public after the Citizen-Times newspaper published footage last week.

I don't think we're vetting individuals well to see if they have the pathology of what I'm calling white supremacy — the pathology of hatred.- Sheneika Smith, Asheville city councillor 

Asheville Coun. Sheneika Smith, who knows Rush personally, spoke with As It Happens host Carol Off about how the violent footage has rattled her community.

Here is part of their conversation. 

What did you think when you first saw this video?

I was very disturbed by it because I'm new to council and I knew it would be the issue that we had to face head on. But most disturbing for me is I recognized the victim  —  Mr. Johnnie Rush.

I'd had some interactions with Mr. Rush through a non-profit organization called Green Opportunities.

So immediately I was struck on so many levels by the behaviour of our law enforcement and by the brutality one of our community members was facing.

I know this issue was going to really rattle our city.

Warning: Graphic content 

Officer charged with assaulting black jaywalking suspect (Warning: Graphic content)

4 years ago
Duration 1:27
This body camera footage obtained by the the Citizen-Times shows a white police officer beating a black pedestrian he accused of jaywalking in Asheville, N.C., in August 2017. Officer Christopher Hickman has been charged with assault by strangulation, assault inflicting serious injury and communicating threats

[Rush] wasn't someone who was in trouble. He wasn't known to police. He was working as a dishwasher and just heading home that night at midnight. Do you know anything else about him? 

I think it's important that you pointed that out, because usually as a society there are justifications that would exempt individuals or would give us an excuse to say, "Oh, this was just a situation because he had a gun."

Mr. Rush was unblemished, which would gather more attention and give us even more reason to look at this police culture.

Asheville, N.C., Coun. Sheneika Smith says she finds the excessive force used by police against Rush 'disturbing.' (Submitted by Sheneika Smith)

It's interesting though that this was a training session. The officer who did the beating was training the other fellow how to do the job. What does that tell you?

If we're really unpacking this issue, I think that is where we start.

How did he even qualify to be a training officer?

Because as we, during our initial investigation here as a city, we looked into the citizen complaints we see that he had numerous citizen complaints.

That's not a person that we would like to be represented on our force. Neither would we like this person to train new, brave, well-intentioned citizens who want to join this charge to protect and serve. That's where the problem begins.

I don't think we're vetting individuals well to see if they have the pathology of what I'm calling white supremacy — the pathology of hatred.

Asheville Police Chief Tammy Hooper listens to community members as they speak during the Asheville Citizens Police Action Committee meeting on Wednesday. (Angela Wilhelm/Asheville Citizen-Times via Associated Press)

This Officer Hickman resigned after the footage was made public. And the chief of police, Tammy Hooper ... she said she'd be happy to resign. Do you think the chief will resign?

I'm a city council member and I believe that all terminations from this point are subject to an investigation.

I would really hate to see Chief Hooper go — and not that she didn't act in negligence, because I believe that she should have started a criminal investigation of this affair when she first viewed the footage.

I would really like to see us work with Chief Hooper. But I think, again, her termination and whether she remains to continue the work, whether she's able to come and redeem herself, is subject to the larger investigation.

— With files from Associated Press. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.