Letters to the editor

It’s up to you adults how the cops treat us kids

I’m writing about the big article regarding the kids at Vance and the cops [“No shirt, no shoes — no service?”, Nov. 18]. I am one of those “young people sporting jewel toned hair,” and I was really happy this article came out. The article might be a little late now, because it’s getting cold, and people aren’t going up there as much, and this summer/early-fall tourist season was when most of the harassment of us was going on.

I couldn’t believe the things that Bill Byrne said about us, like we are “sucking the energy out of downtown.” Most people like seeing us, and many tourists or business people stop to watch the drumming. Some even try to learn how to drum from us. …

I noticed something that wasn’t in the article. This summer, one of my friends got set up by narcs at Vance. These three middle-aged guys, dressed very conspicuously (one had on a brand new tie-dyed T-shirt, one had on a Rebel-flag bandana, and the other had on a leather jacket) came up to Vance one day and sat on the wall in front of Merrill Lynch, a little distance away from us. After a few minutes, they came over and asked if my friend had any weed she could sell them. She only had a small joint, and she gave it to them. They tried to give her money for it, but she refused. Two minutes later, a cop car rolled up, and some officers started talking to her. Mickey Mahaffey was at Vance when they were talking to her, trying to mediate with the cops. She didn’t have any more herb on her, or any paraphernalia. The police took her to the station … and her mom had to come bail her out. All the kids who loudly protested were told to get out of downtown for the day, and that if the cops saw them again that day, they would take the kids in to the station.

After that, the narcs came back to Vance. The kids were yelling at them and making fun of them so they’d leave, but they didn’t. The narcs started yelling back, and the one with the Rebel flag on his head started walking up and down in front of us trying to instigate us into a fight.

My point is: The police had no legal grounds for taking her to jail. A lady from the Xpress came and talked to the girl who got arrested and some kids who witnessed it, including me. I guess this injustice would have made the article look slanted toward the kids, but it is a part of the story that got left out.

Us kids aren’t trying to hurt anyone, and I hope you adults try to change the way we’re being treated at Vance.

— name withheld

Marsha Barber’s response: I witnessed some of the events described by this letter-writer. When I arrived at Pack Square, the young woman in question was in police custody. A few minutes later, she was escorted into a squad car by Asheville Police officers Creson and Matthews and driven away. Just before that, I questioned the officers about what had just transpired. They told me they were not at liberty to discuss the matter. I also spoke with a number of people at the scene who said they had been present during the incident with the three undercover police officers, and, later, I talked with the young woman who was arrested. The various accounts seem to corroborate much of what the letter-writer asserts, including the approach by undercover officers who, reportedly, tried several times to pay the young woman for the small amount of marijuana, even though she refused to accept any cash.

The young woman also told me that the two officers held her in custody for some time at the Square without telling her why they had arrested her and that she finally asked them if it was because she “gave a joint to that guy.” She asserted that one of the officers then radioed to someone, “She just admitted it.”

I did not witness the alleged subsequent return of the officers to Pack Square.

The reason this incident was not included in my Nov. 18 article, “No Shirts, No Shoes … No Rights?”, was solely due to lack of space, and not because of concerns about whether it would make the story “look slanted.” I had to narrow significantly the scope of the story that I originally set out to write, and this incident, while I did consider it important, was one of several that did not make it into my final version.

Try getting your quotes straight

Let’s set the record straight, once and for all, shall we? In his Sept. 2 letter to the editor, my partner and friend Doug Beatty made a very-to-the-point reference about panhandlers, crack dealers and other urban vermin, who can be found in parts of downtown Asheville.

Two weeks later, Amy Mozingo wrote a letter to Mountain Xpress in which she took my partner’s comments completely out of context and proceeded to criticize him for those comments. Amy, please tell all of us how you took a comment about crack dealers, crack-heads and overly enthusiastic panhandlers and decided that it was referring to artists, craft vendors and musicians — because, frankly, you lost me with that one.

It sounds to me, Amy, as though you had a chip on your shoulder and decided that this was your opportunity to get it out of your system. Never mind that you were taking the reputation of an innocent man with you. Perhaps in the future, Amy, you might be well advised to, in your own words, “lose your judgmental stance.”

Between my partners and myself, we have over 30 years of living in Asheville. And, like you, we are very excited about the way that our downtown area has transformed over the last five or six years. I lived here when a person was ill-advised if they even dared to walk downtown after dark. But those times are starting to become just a distant memory, due in no small part to the efforts of downtown merchants who aren’t afraid to step up and face the challenges of running an urban business.

And lest I forget to mention Marsha Barber, [the reporter] who took it upon herself in her Nov. 18 article [“No shoes, no shirts — no rights?”] not only to embrace Amy’s misguided interpretation of Mr. Beatty’s comments, but to perpetuate them. What Were You Thinking? I suppose we are all painfully aware that modern-day journalism is becoming nothing more than hearing a rumor or opinion and deciding that it must be true. Marsha, next time you write a story, why don’t you at least try to get your quotes straight?

For years, Barley’s has prided itself on catering to a very diverse group of patrons. We embrace the social and cultural diversity that is Asheville.

Can you tell that I am just a bit upset? Can you tell that I have taken this all terribly personally? Well, you are right, and now I have gotten the chip off of my shoulder.

— Michael Neel, owner/partner
Barley’s Taproom and Pizzeria

[Marsha Barber, alias media vermin, replies: Although limited by my “poor reading-comprehension skills,” I recognize that the points made by Mr. Neel and Mr. Beatty in their letters are well-taken. I was wrong to infer that Mr. Beatty was referring to the kids who hang out at Pack Square when he used the phrase “urban vermin” in his Sept. 2 letter to Xpress. That misinterpretation was based on both Amy Mozingo’s Sept. 16 letter and the subsequently-voiced perceptions of several people I interviewed during the course of writing my article, “No Shoes, No Shirts … No Rights?” [Nov. 18] Both Mountain Xpress and I regret the error.]

Let’s try again: Urban vermin defined

Just a letter to let you know how disappointed I am to learn that I missed an opportunity to personally provide the Mountain Enquirer with meaty tidbits worth quoting. In the future, however, any quotes attributed to me should come from me.

Now, I know that I didn’t reply to Amy Mozingo’s letter [Sept. 16] rebuking me for calling mimes and street musicians “urban vermin” in my earlier letter [Sept. 2]. I felt a reply would be of little value because of her poor reading-comprehension skills — and now yours, for that matter. While I was surprised that she interpreted my use of the phrase to mean mimes and street musicians, I am amazed that you attribute her misunderstanding as a quote to me. Then to top it off, you stretch her editorial content — from mimes and street musicians to the kids on the Square.

I guess I should not be surprised, after reading last week’s story about the Police Department [“No shoes, no shirt — no service?”, Nov. 16].

For the record, I consider the drug dealers, crack-heads, panhandlers, muggers and thieves, who are preying on visitors and residents of downtown, to be urban vermin. I think City Council should put dealing with these issues at the top of its “things we really ought to be doing” list.

That is as clear as I can be. The kids on the Square are not included in the vermin label, unless, of course, they engage in the activities listed in my definition. We’ve always welcomed them as customers, as long as they’ve got shirt, shoes and the ability to pay their bill.

I do appreciate the diversity of Asheville and its people. My partners and I have built a successful business catering to that diversity. We like to brag that if you want a demographic profile of Asheville, go to Barley’s. We have an establishment that is open and friendly to everyone: young, old, black, white, rich, poor, gay, straight … a place where suit-and-tie meet tie-dye.

We set out to provide a venue that embraced fresh new ideas, like never having a cover charge, serving food till midnight, being open seven-days-a-week, and not serving Bud-, Coors- or Miller-owned products.

Going against the prevailing wisdom is what Barley’s has always been about. We used to be thought of as counterculture, until we changed the business practices of restaurants and bars that had been closed on Sunday and Monday, that stopped serving food at 9 p.m., and wanted a $5 cover for the privilege of coming in to spend your money.

As for the mimes and musicians who are on the streets, we have hired several talented singer/songwriters and bands that we had only heard on the sidewalk. We found the Elastic String Band playing next door, in the entrance to Rogers Plumbing. I doubt, however, that you’ll see a mime in Barley’s. It gets a little loud, and you probably couldn’t hear them. And you can quote me on that.

— Doug Beatty, owner/partner,
Barley’s Taproom and Pizzeria

Serve Merlot with lamb… and NASCAR with Asheville

I have read several articles regarding the RiverLink purchase of the Asheville Motor Speedway. I have listened to the banter of those around me, with respect to the pros and cons of closing down what many consider a western North Carolina “treasure.” I have been berated by media-reported opinions of those who seem to think that auto racing is some kind of pagan ritual equivalent to the sacrificing of virgins. Quite frankly, I cannot believe that the opinions of the few have been allowed to take part in the theft of the enjoyment of the many.

Do those of you who support the RiverLink project really believe that a public park in a less-than-desirable section of Asheville will cause less problems than the Speedway? Can our City Fathers promise us that no drunken driver will get behind the wheel of his/her car and head home from this park? Do you believe that they can control drugs and prostitution and rape and all the other crimes that are synonymous with the words “public park”? And if we follow blindly into this abyss, the next questions from you should be, “How?” and “At whose expense?”

In the quest to find another suitable site for another racetrack, the [residents living in] the proposed areas have made it clear that their “quality of life” will be seriously compromised, should a track be built in their neighborhood. Granted, they have some legitimate concerns regarding noise and traffic. However, the inference that race fans, in general, are drunken, disorderly, ignorant and otherwise undeserving of their passion, irks me to no end.

As one of two daughters born to a career auto mechanic, I watched my dad earn the tuition to send both of us to junior college and, later, to expensive Ivy League schools. Many Saturday evenings, our family could be found at the local dirt track cheering for a car that my dad had built with pride and tuned to perfection. We were a family doing a “family thing.” Never once did I see my dad or mom or the crew drunken or disorderly. Put the blame where the blame lies.

Although my dear dad is too old to work over the fender of an automobile (that most of us know nothing about, except to put gasoline in the tank and to turn the key), I still call him from 1,200 miles away when something goes wrong with my car. I give him the “symptoms,” and he diagnoses the problem like some long-distance physician, and then offers his passionate knowledge of the inner workings of something I spent $40,000 per semester to know nothing about.

Motorsports — whether at the local track, or on the NASCAR, Indy or NHRA circuits — is the fastest growing spectator sport in the world. Attendance at a single motorsport event outnumbers the other pro-sports events put together, at a staggering rate of two-to-one. Much of the technological advances that make our daily travel safer and cleaner are discovered and tested at the track first.

Furthermore, it strikes me as odd that an area that prides itself on its historical assets, such as the Biltmore Estate and the Thomas Wolfe home, as well as its cultural and educational aptitude, cannot find room for one more asset to add to its list. How about a museum/track dedicated to western North Carolina’s contribution to motorsports?

Face it folks: If you polled 100 people across the U.S., I would bet that a higher number of those 100 people could name the seven-time Winston Cup champion than could give title to one Thomas Wolfe work. Yet, race fans are as diversified in class, culture and education as waves in the ocean. What’s more, race fans have money, and they are willing to spend it on their passion (as racing is a passion). Are the city of Asheville and RiverLink so wealthy that they do not need extra revenue?

So, in closing, should we meet on the street when I am wearing the colors of my favorite driver, don’t delude yourself into thinking that I cannot name the seven-time Winston Cup champion or the works of Wolfe, Shakespeare or any other literary greats. Don’t lull yourself into the self-serving comfort of thinking you know more about what wine to choose with lamb (I would suggest a Merlot), or that I have not stood in line for tickets to the Metropolitan or the Lincoln Center. Please don’t believe that I cannot write a business plan, read blueprints, or recount the history of this great country.

And, although I am one of those Neanderthals who do not deserve an historical dedication to the greatest American sport, I’ll try to remember to behave myself and not to sacrifice any virgins on your front lawn.

— Lynette M. Ferber-Supples

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