Letters to the editor

A way to stop unsafe police driving

When I see law-enforcement officers driving down the road, I pay attention to their driving etiquette. Sometimes they drive courteously and respectfully, but as many times as not, they are driving aggressively and unsafely.

I have wanted to see a system installed whereby a citizen can call in an unsafe police officer quickly and easily, and the calls would be matched against any of the legitimate reasons for unsafe driving logged by police communications. Being a reasonable person, I have always let it slide, hoping that officer training is improving with each new graduating class.

I now believe that measures should be taken by our governing bodies to ensure the safety of our highways. By “unsafe driving,” I mean the practice of driving over the speed limit without warning lights of any kind. I have also witnessed patrol cars rolling through stop signs, and I would wager that most drivers have had officers in unmarked vehicles tailgate them in order to push said drivers over the speed limit, or simply to check their plates. From what I have seen, these activities occur in every law-enforcement department — city, county and state.

The early morning of Feb. 17, 1998, I witnessed what I have lately come to expect as typical patrol behavior … until I saw the patrol’s companion vehicle. About two miles south of Rock Hill Drive, on Hendersonville Highway, at 1:50 a.m., I waited at a red light with an Asheville Police car next to me. The officer(s) had just pulled out of a gas station, and waited for the green light before proceeding. When the light changed, I accelerated normally, and the police car sped away.

I sped up to 45 mph pretty quickly, but I watched the police car race into the night. It was a very dark, rainy night, and the car had no extra lights on indicating a response to a call. I maintained the proper speed and watched the police car speed ahead. Then, all of a sudden, the car turned a sharp corner into (or near) Rock Hill Drive. Maybe the officer was responding to a call. If so, there is no reason why warning lights were not lit on the main highway. Then, to my shock and surprise, I noticed, coming at me on my left, a Completely Unlit Asheville Police car driving down the middle lane of Hendersonville Highway. Again, this was a dark, rainy night. I might have needed that lane to make a turn, or to avoid a dark obstacle. There is no legitimate reason for any car to be driven in the dark with the lights off. The patrol car remained unlit as I continued driving north, and it never flashed even a turn signal.

I did not chase these officers down in order to get their licenses. Instead, I went to police headquarters and inquired as to how I could best file a complaint. This letter is the result of my inquiry. If the officers involved are untrustworthy, maybe they can manufacture a reason for putting me at risk. It’s my word against theirs, so the point becomes moot, as I quickly discovered at the police headquarters.

In addition to filing this complaint, I propose a campaign to keep police patrols honest. We simply label their vehicles’ back ends with large three-digit numbers, with words such as “city,” “county” or “state” underneath. Each department would be accountable to a “How’s my driving?” answering service, so that the citizenry could immediately file incidents such as the one that I witnessed. If officers of the law must disregard the law while driving, then at the very least their lights should be flashing, and the use of those flashing lights should be recorded and monitored.

A favorite argument used by law-enforcement officers applies well to such monitoring of their activities: If you have nothing to hide, then you should have nothing to worry about.

— Thomas J. Visnius

Sell Memorial Stadium and lose affordable housing

At City Council’s Feb. 17 work session, the most important issue pertaining to the proposed sale of Memorial Stadium was largely overlooked: How will it affect the surrounding neighborhood and affordable housing in Asheville?

If sold, the Memorial Stadium property will be developed for commercial use. This commercial development in a residential district would diminish the character and viability of yet another affordable neighborhood in Asheville.

First, property values on Buchanan Avenue and White Fawn Drive would increase significantly. This would drive up rents, forcing many current residents to find alternative housing.

Second, many of the homes on these streets will most certainly be converted into medical offices, because of the high rents that such properties bring — reducing the number of residential properties available to the residents of Asheville.

Finally, by reducing the amount of recreational green space in the center of the city, all downtown neighborhoods would suffer, and the viability of these neighborhoods, as places where working families can live, will be diminished.

As Vice Mayor Edward Hay stated (Citizen-Times, Feb. 18), “We need to start looking at [housing] in a comprehensive way.” On March 10, the City Council has a chance to show their commitment to affordable housing by voting down the proposed sale of Memorial Stadium.

All seven members of the City Council can be reached with one letter addressed to: Mayor Sitnick and all Council members, c/o Asheville City Clerk, P.O. Box 7148, Asheville, NC 28802-7148. Or by one fax to 259-5499. Please contact them with your opinion.

— Alan Kirkpatrick

Government should protect citizens, not businesses

I was appalled as I read the “threat to our society” supposedly caused by governmental restraint of business. John Myer, in his commentary [“‘Fascialism’ poses threat to our society,” Feb. 4], attacked governmental oversight of business, calling such restraint “fascialism.” In doing so, he proposed that the city of Asheville should have no public hearings to influence its zoning rulings (he called neighborhood-citizen input into these hearings “a whim”). He also suggested the city should fail to enforce various state safety-code requirements for buildings, because enforcement took up his time.

He seemed to assert that, because business is inherently a good thing (after all, he has one), there should be no safety rules and no rules protecting employees from discrimination on the basis of race, disability or sex. He also proposed that we should sympathize with Blue Cross/Blue Shield for its suffering because it had to process the COBRA claims of people who found themselves unemployed with costly health problems!

Of course, he justified each of these points with brief synopses of situations which, on the surface, sound unjust, using the editorial-page equivalent of the sound bite. What he failed to do (because it doesn’t support his point) was give examples of the abuses by businesses against the citizenry which caused these laws to be enacted. We would not have any of these laws today if some businesses did not act in outrageously grievous ways toward their employees, neighbors and communities.

Laws are not passed in a vacuum. I have attended numerous public hearings, read the responses [filed during] comment periods, and served on advisory committees to rule-making bodies. At the federal, state and even the local level, these committees are typically dominated by people from business-related interest groups, or from the business community itself. It is still rare when citizens with non-business interests are represented — either by themselves, by lobbyists, or by well-organized special interests.

Mr. Myer calls government oversight a kind of paternalism, but oversight legislation is forged by compromise with (if not outright controlled by) business interests. It is only when business behavior is so out-of-line as to cause public outcry that the father of government stops blindly favoring the child who finances his re-election.

Mr. Myer claims that government oversight is a tyranny. I think the tyranny is the claim that the business of American government is business.

— Julie Combs

We should leave Iraqis in peace

Imagine, if you would, that Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction were not hypothetical, but real, and that real people — say 1,000 American kids every week — were suffering and dying needless deaths due to one man’s callous indifference. We would all be outraged and do whatever possible to put a stop to the carnage, right?

Well, guess what, folks — this scenario is real and has been happening every week since Iraq’s civilian infrastructure was bombed back to the Stone Age in l991. However, the victims are Iraqi children, and the perpetrator isn’t Saddam Hussein, but Bill Clinton. According to UNICEF and other medical teams operating in Iraq, more than 1,000 Iraqi children under the age of 5 die every week, due to malnutrition and disease because of a lack of food, a hopelessly contaminated water supply, and lack of the most basic medicines; all of this is due to the embargo insisted upon by the U.S. government. After seven years, it is clear that only innocent people suffer and die from this policy, not their tinhorn dictator. And these same innocents will be the only victims of any further bombings.

Do we finally have no shame, no humanity left? Why do we allow this destruction (over 1 million Iraqi deaths since the Gulf War!) to be carried out in our name?

Call the White House today, and urge President Clinton to lift the useless and cruel sanctions on the Iraqi people and replace them with areawide negotiations to eliminate all weapons of mass destruction from the Middle East, including Israel’s clandestine stockpile of nuclear weapons. Tell Clinton to do what he does best — to make love, not war — and leave the long-suffering Iraqi people in peace.

— Ken Stone
Jews for Justice in the Middle East
Berkeley, Calif.

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