Uneasy answers

Photo of North Lexington Avenue by night by Max Cooper

The Dec. 5 cover story, “No Easy Answers: Lexington Avenue’s Uncertain Future,” which explored the state of affairs on the last, northern block of the street, proved to be aptly titled. Many readers responded, including Lexington Avenue business owners. On Dec. 14, representatives of Xpress met with a group of Lexington retailers, many of whom took issue with the article. Reporter Caitlin Byrd covered that meeting here. We encourage readers to use the comments field to join this ongoing discussion.

The letters …

This letter is in response to the Dec. 5 story, “No Easy Answers,” and the Dec. 22 followup, “Merchants Protest Dec. 5 Lexington Avenue Story.”

I am in the process of turning the former TV Eye location into Devotion Organics, a retail store for local, organic, eco-responsible and non-corporate bath and beauty products. The main focus of my business is to create a centralized venue for the many small-market manufacturers of these products who reside in and around Asheville, thereby strengthening our local economy and our small-business community while providing chemical-free, ethical products to our customers.

It is on this platform that I stand “outraged” at the irresponsible journalism of “No Easy Answers.” At the Dec. 14 meeting with Lexington business owners, Xpress reacted with nepotistic defense of its fellow journalist, without regard to the needs or voices of those present.

We all felt that David Forbes' portrayal was false, fear-inciting, sensationalistic journalism that belonged more in a tabloid than in a reputable news source.

The printed quote made it sound like I was taking Xpress' side. I was absolutely not. This piece of journalism was old news, born of a dated concern and opinionated rhetoric. Forbes left out the majority of Lexington Avenue’s voices (such as the ones “protesting“ at this meeting).

Those present from Xpress were unwilling to listen to any of us. Their raised voices in defense of their fellow journalist only led to more contempt from our side. We were upset not that the article was printed, but that the information was no longer valid, was hearsay, or was otherwise untrue.

For example: Earlier in the year, many people came to Lexington in search of “bath salts,” and exhibited erratic (and sometimes criminal) behavior as a result of these drugs. Some people at the meeting were trying (correctly) to make the point that Xpress did not report this as it was happening, rather months after the sale of bath salts on Lexington Avenue ceased. The concerns raised in the article had already been addressed by those responsible for the sale of these legal but harmful drugs.

Xpress is not here to tell us what to think or what to be afraid of, just as we as business owners aren’t here to pay Xpress to say what we want. Rather, Xpress is here to bring our voices to one another in the spirit of community. Instead, Xpress spat in the face of the community that has supported it since its inception, and isolated itself as part of the problem and not the solution.

All we really wanted was an admission and an apology, but Xpress was too blind with pride to hear that request. Lexington Avenue is the colorful heart of this beautiful city, not a dark corner of violence. I did not receive a free ad, nor did anyone else. I humbly ask the readers to stand up and support local small business, and show David Forbes and those who may have been swayed by his tactics that our city is safe, and that we are not afraid to walk the streets, no matter what he tries to tell us.

— Joshua Lawton
Devotion Organics

The Dec. 5 article, "No Easy Answers: Lexington Avenue's Uncertain Future," paints Lexington Avenue as a street of violence, crime and gentrification. Do these things exist on Lexington? Of course they do. However, these are not the defining characteristics of the street.

Lexington is, for the most part, a vibrant and bustling, culturally distinct district. I ask reporter David Forbes: Where are your sources? Where are your interviews with business owners? Where do you draw your conclusions from? Interviewing one disgruntled business owner on his way out doesn't suffice in painting a real picture of what is actually happening on the rest of Lexington.

The north end of Lexington has had some drug problems, but what about the other 10 blocks of the street? Ask business owners here, of which I am one. Rents are stable, business is flourishing and the over-the-counter drug problem stemming from Octopus Garden ended during the summer. How did you miss that one? You missed it because you didn't ask.

You cited two business sources on a massive street, but paint this as a neighborhood problem. Even your article states that the cops find Lexington's crime stats stable and in line with the other parts of downtown. So what are you left with? Primarily, one business owner's opinion of an entire district. I find the article misleading and poorly written.

— Alex Carr
TOPS for Shoes

I’d just put down Michelle Alexander's book, The New Jim Crow, in which I’d been reading page after page of evidence of the many racial disparities and stereotypes in the “war on drugs.” When I picked up the Dec. 5 Mountain Xpress, an African-American face jumped out at me from the cover with two fingers pointed towards my face. I wondered, what does this have to do with the cover story?

Then I turned to page 10 and was greeted by an ominous photo of Lexington Avenue with three dark figures lurking on crumpled sidewalk. The caption read, “Changing dynamics on Lexington Avenue have business owners and residents looking for solutions.” The article goes on to discuss the increase in violence and in hard drugs.

What message is Xpress really trying to portray? Who are these people who are making others feel so unsafe that they are afraid to pick up a DVD at 10 at night? Sure looks like the implication is that this “changing dynamic” may really mean “African-American.”

What I know from having lived here for more than 10 years and walked down Lexington alone on many occasions (safely, I may add) is that the suspicious people I see hanging out in that spot are typically scroungy looking white guys. Why did Xpress choose these specific images to print?

Well, as I read further, it turns out that perhaps all that has changed is the perception of crime, not the actual number of incidents. And, after investigating further online, the face on the cover is that of the musician Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, as seen on a Lexington Avenue mural on [the storefront of Static Age Records]. Nothing identifies it as such in the printed paper.

In a country where blacks have been portrayed as the evil bad guys over and over again, we and Xpress must take responsibility to not perpetuate fears and stereotypes.

— Linda Block

David Forbes' Dec. 5 piece, “No Easy Answers: Lexington Avenue's Uncertain Future,” accurately and fairly framed many of the issues troubling downtown these days. I’m grateful that so much of my professional life and private friendships play out in such a beautiful environment. I was glad to see crack use and overt prostitution replaced by more decent activities.

I admire my landlord, love my building and have warm feelings for many of my neighbors. Some of them own businesses while others are probably homeless. We don't discuss our private lives, but manage to maintain respectful, symbiotic relationships. I don't want to see people with limited resources pushed out of the public eye. I think this is the general sentiment of many people in these neighborhoods.

However, these new hard drugs and aggressive, transient men have become a white elephant in the room. In the last few months the women in my building have had interactions with men who appeared to be extremely drug-addled and mentally ill in dangerous ways. This behavior was presenting itself in ways we quietly understood to be sexually menacing. For many months, clusters of men seemed to be running wild through town, fully aware that there are no consequences for their behavior. It has left reasonable, adult women at a loss for how to comport themselves —  in the daytime or the evening

We responded to it, as women frequently do, by internalizing it, feeling ashamed and remaining quiet. I think this is because if we articulated what was going on it meant that it was actually happening.

I would hate for decent business owners who have put so much work into cleaning up the area to be financially affected by that kind of media. On the other hand, ignoring the escalating and erratic behavior of some of these men downtown isn't doing anyone any favors. It really needs to be addressed.

I appreciated Capt. Tim Splain's candor in the article. Most women are not cracking under the pressure of simple “hey baby” cat calls, but being called a "f—king c-nt" is decidedly more threatening. These men need to understand that there are boundaries within the culture, and that the police take this kind of menacing and sexually demeaning behavior seriously. I appreciate the honest and rational dialogue we are having about this situation.

— Rebecca MacNeice

… And Xpress’ response:

In the past few weeks, we have received many letters and online comments about the Dec. 5 cover story, “No Easy Answers: Lexington Avenue's Uncertain Future.” We welcome such feedback, as it is part of our mission to encourage community dialogue. And as journalists, we’re always striving to hone our craft, while reporting fairly and accurately what happens in Asheville and the surrounding area.

In our more than 20 years as a downtown business, we have published many stories about Lexington and chronicled its evolution into a thriving district. We tend to see these many articles as a whole and our coverage as an ongoing, larger story.

In the Dec. 5 piece, we examined, primarily, the northernmost block of Lexington Avenue, based on various tips we had received in the last few months. We did not report what couldn’t be corroborated, and we did report that Asheville Police Department stats show that the street, as a whole, doesn’t have a higher crime incidence than any other part of downtown. We also didn’t shy away from concerns about late-night safety on that section of Lexington.

However, we regret not making this article’s limited, single-block focus clear.

We also regret that, although more than a dozen people were interviewed for the story, we did not reach out for a broader sampling of business owners. Doing so could have improved the story and provided more context.

However, nothing racial was intended in the choice of cover images or interior photos. Gus Cutty’s mural at Static Age Records, depicting musician Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, shows one aspect of the lively energy and attitude on Lexington; that’s one reason we picked it for the cover image. An interior, late-night shot of people huddled in a doorway shows at least two white men, which may be hard to discern in print.

Moving forward, we aim to do better, and are grateful for the feedback that Lexington’s impassioned merchants and residents have given us. For those who remain dissatisfied with this particular article, we hope you’ll keep in mind that Mountain Xpress is deeply committed to our community. There will be many more stories and the conversation will continue.

— News Editor Margaret Williams
Publisher Jeff Fobes
Mountain Xpress



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3 thoughts on “Uneasy answers

  1. Big Al

    “Lexington Avenue is the colorful heart of this beautiful city…”

    Not by a long shot.

    The article expressed very well the seediness that I have observed on Lex Ave in recent months.

    The truth hurts, but that is no reason not to tell it.

  2. David

    I feel the need to address Linda Block directly due to her irresponsible statement.

    While its good to acknowledge the problems that this country has with race and I commend you for being interested in such things; in this case race or racism has nothing to do with the complaints that people are having with Lexington Avenue late at night. Not only do I frequently find myself of Lexington at night, I am also friends with one of the owners mentioned in the original article and know first hand what the complaints are. I can tell you that most of if not all of the people that are causing the complaints are white and the people complaining are white at don’t have a racist bone in their body. Next time why don’t you come downtown and see what the issues are before assuming some book you just read has any relevance to the situation. You are performing a huge disservice to us all when you make false accusations.

  3. Thad

    The only parts of David Forbes’ article that were obviously based on misinformation were the direct quotes he took from police and from one restaurant owner. So, he couldn’t have made those parts up. They were attributed directly to real people, and those quotes are hardly libelous.

    I have a degree in mass communication and have worked as s journalist. I will say that there was absolutely nothing in the article that was worthy of this sort of backlash from business owners. It wasn’t a masterwork of journalism, but it also isn’t to blame for your incompetence as a store proprietor. Sales are low? Advertise! Or just maybe your business plan is too dumb to be profitable, even on Lexington, in the trendiest, most over-rated part of downtown.

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