Respect begets respect

As the blossoming spring and summer season makes each new day here in Asheville more splendid than the last, it seems good to reflect on certain of our local issues. The spirit of our mountain community brings out the best in folks during fine weather; combined with the splendor of a beautiful day, we are ’bout as neighborly a people as there is.

But on to the matters at hand: I fear it was winter weather that lulled me into thinking that those we have hired to police our town had mellowed a whit. No, from what I’ve seen downtown lately, they may well have been merely slacking in warm places during these past winter months.

In only the most exemplary of our fellow citizens should we dare place the sacred trust and honor of protecting the people. We should feel confident trusting in police officers’ wisdom to properly represent lawful, respectable authority. They are to be disrespected when they behave disrespectfully, and fail to serve as role models. Ideally, our police should be few; they should be well-compensated, restrained and worthy of our trust, if legitimate danger should require justifiable deployment of force.

I’ve personally seen, for a couple of weeks now, the reappearance and resurgence of intrusive, brusque and disrespectful behavior from those we hire and entrust to serve and protect us.

The other day, as I sat on a bench downtown, a rather harmless drunk sat down next to me. Within minutes, nine squad cars and at least a dozen policewomen and men arrived to question, arrest, ‘cuff and drive the dimwitted winebibber off to the slammer.

Beloveds, this response — at our own tax-dollar expense — was absurdly out of proportion! It was a simple job for a simple neighborhood cop.

It also chaps my butt that I ought to dress and look my most well-groomed if I am to be hopeful of not fitting some vague and arbitrary profile considered “suspicious” — in current law-enforcement vogue — should I choose to, say, read a book on a downtown bench: Recently, I was actually videotaped by a uniformed, armed policeman as I sat in Pack Square reading a Steinbeck novel!

It was but a few short months ago that Clean Sweep Asheville was so well-funded and so well-publicized. Clean Sweep Asheville –among other things — amateurishly whitewashed (with the cheapest materials) the Chicken Alley mural, without so much as asking the Alley residents about it. The morning the mural was removed, I walked up the Alley and turned onto Carolina Lane. There loafed three teenage miscreants, apparently sentenced by your judiciary to obliterate the spray painting that they — and, no doubt, many of their buddies — had perpetrated. They were not breaking a sweat, though. No, they lolled listlessly about whilst one very industrious policeman whitewashed away.

Later that afternoon, I was out and about again, this time walking up Lexington Avenue. I glanced down Carolina Lane, where I saw again the busily whitewashing policeman and the three unambitious teenagers. But now, a television camera crew was setting up Asheville’s most photogenic and avuncular police lieutenant for a staged pitch extolling the “get-tough” success of Clean Sweep Asheville. The hard-working cop took himself and his roller out of sight and the three kids picked up rollers, for the first time that I had seen. They set to work on a backdrop, which must have appeared to lend credence, while the lieutenant held forth. The scene ended, and everyone knocked off for the day — the cops, the kids and the media. This is street theater with your tax money, people — naught but misinformation, a tax-supported charade.

Months later: March 2000. I retraced the steps I’d trod those scant few months before. The whitewash on the wall at the end of the Alley had, of course, provided an excellent new canvas for the paint-and-run muralists. The Alley mural is back, despite Clean Sweep Asheville, and it is better and more colorful than before. Around the curve, onto the Lane, the story was much the same: some art, some plain ol’ graffiti, and the inevitable “tagging.”

Authority figures ought to be role models for our young people, not their adversaries. Due to the de facto criminalization of so much of what is a perfectly normal stage in life — youth itself — the police force has effectively become an outlaw regime.

Would someone please explain, for example, how reasonable adults have come to hold skateboarding on city streets to be illegal — and, thus (one would assume), skateboarders to be criminals?

This author is unabashed to grant that skateboarding can be a pain in the butt for the bystander. It irritates the crap out of me, in fact. But by no reasonable standard can, or should, something be criminalized for being irritating. It’s fun for them, the skateboarders — most of whom I have found to be fairly decent kids.

Courtesy and youth are not mutually exclusive. This author is troubled that much of what is merely youthful prankishness has been effectively criminalized. If we — the adult community — do not set our own examples of mutual courtesy and decency, tolerance and encouragement, how dare we expect those for whom we are role models to respect us and to revere the institutions that are among our legacies to them?

Our Western North Carolina way of life is a unique natural resource that we are entrusted with and enjoined to respect and protect. The nation has taken to noting what we have always known about this blessed region of ours. These fine mountains and we, the people of WNC, are not of an urban spirit. The Americana we inhabit is an essential cultural high ground — a rare and precious remnant of a once-great national inheritance. Whether Western North Carolinians are homegrown folks or transplants, we are neighbors and tribal folk and country people in a way that once was the norm in our nation. This cultural prosperity carries with it the responsibility of proper stewardship of all that we hold dear — from protecting our way of life, to nurturing our youth, to earning the respect we receive from those young people, to demanding ethical behavior from our public servants.

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