Letters to the editor

The problem with vermin

I am responding to the letters from Barley’s Taproom owners Michael Neel and Doug Beatty [Dec. 2 ].

I’m sure some of the folks you two guys sling beer to are overjoyed that you’ve appointed yourselves the saviors of downtown Asheville. It seems that a key part of your strategy for making downtown safe for all of us is your need to call people you don’t like “vermin.”

I know that feeling any empathy and compassion for drug dealers and drug addicts isn’t easy — or popular. And I know some people get very upset with people like myself, who choose to feel empathy and compassion for all.

It seems to me that calling people “vermin” serves only one purpose — and that is to imply that these people are not quite human. The dictionary defines vermin as “animals and insects that are destructive and injurious to the health of the community.”

In Germany in the 1930s, the Nazi Party used words such as “vermin” to describe Jews, Slavs and all other peoples they deemed subhuman. Using words like “vermin” was one of their first steps in their plan to exterminate these peoples.

I feel that people who need to call other human beings vermin are looking for superficial, simplistic justifications for their hatred and fears.

These people have no interest in reading or trying to comprehend any of the various studies of why some of our children and neighbors grow up to become drug addicts and drug dealers.

In the ’60s, folk artists Joan Baez and Phil Ochs sang a song with the lyrics, “There but for fortune, may go you, or I.” (I doubt that Mike’s and Doug’s friends will find either artist’s version of this song on the Barley’s play-list of relevant tunes).

I am no stranger to urban life. I’ve lived in New York City, New Orleans and Atlanta. I’ve seen too, too many homeless men, women and children begging for money. I’ve seen people who sell heroin and crack, and I’ve seen what happens to people who become street addicts. I’ve sat and talked with teenage prostitutes in Times Square and the French Quarter. And I’ve also known people who were robbed and beaten.

I’ve seen a lot, and I still choose to follow the path of feeling compassion toward all. (And yes, I do get angry sometimes — I am human.)

I, for one, understood very clearly what Amy Mozingo was saying in her letter to the Mountain Xpress [Sept. 16]. What Amy said was from her heart — not from a thinly disguised need to protect some financial bottom line.

I know that the path of loving all human beings unconditionally is not an easy path sometimes. I know it’s a path a lot of people have no interest in. But I know it’s the right path for me.

— Kimena Czajkowski

Exterminate the vermin …

Yet another letter to the editor … Wow. It would seem that the Barley’s owners doth protest a bit overmuch [Letters, Dec. 2]. My original letter [Sept. 16], as printed, didn’t represent my position as clearly as it could have, since the editor chose to print only the last half of the letter, so I can understand a small portion of Mr. Neel and Mr. Beatty’s complaint about my stance. But, once again, they missed the point entirely.

When you call another human being vermin, you set up a scenario wherein it is OK to treat that “vermin” as less than human. I will go a step further and state that the word “vermin” carries with it an imperative to exterminate the pest that is destroying your peace of mind.

We are all humans — even Ted Bundy — even the crack-dealing, mugging thief who the owners of Barley’s seem to fear so much. As soon as we begin to draw lines that cause factions of “us” and “them,” we have strayed from the truth. We are all human. We all want love.

— Amy Mozingo

No shoes, no shirt … wrong focus

Inasmuch as this is an issue that will not go away, I intentionally withheld my comments until the dust had settled somewhat on your Nov. 16 article, “No shoes, no shirt — no service?”

For the most part, I will say my sentiment toward some [people] was accurately depicted [in the article], in that I am offended and fed up with an element in our community that is undermining the positive course that downtown has been on for many years now.

Unfortunately, in an effort to create a controversial story, Marsha Barber drew a line in the sand with an us-versus-them theme to her writing. Given that you have drawn criticism from every business owner who was quoted in that article, it would lend credence to my statement.

Kids are not the only issue; counter-culture is not the issue — and, in fact, the vitality of our young and the diversity of our community is what makes it great. However, when you walk into my restaurant with no shirt and no shoes, you have crossed the line. (The Buncombe County Board of Health enforces that one.) Grabbing food and beer bottles off of outdoor dining tables, urinating in alcoves, laying across public rights of way, allowing dogs to defecate on sidewalks, aggressively panhandling inside and outside of businesses — [in addition to] homeless camped in doorways at night and on Pack Square by day, drug transactions and destruction of private property — these issues and those responsible are what is, [as I’ve already said,] “sucking the energy out of downtown.”

Youth vs. cops vs. business owners is not where the lines are drawn. I, for one, commend the efforts of our police in the infinitely impossible task of protecting rights, while doing what makes sense.

For the past two weeks, you have published letters specifically naming me and my restaurant, and I have been openly criticized [as a result of] the context in which you presented my opinions. I expected that.

I do take offense, however, to a letter that rambles on about a woman distributing marijuana and her subsequent arrest. Then [the writer criticizes me] for taking offense at these kinds of actions, yet this writer doesn’t sign his/her name and you publish it. I really have to question an editorial policy that editorializes what’s meant to be a story, and prints opinions from those who won’t put their name behind it.

In the Dec. 2 USA Today, a feature article was written regarding the homeless and the urban problems associated with them. The basis of the story was: In the ’80s we, as Americans, were sympathetic and supportive, but we have grown intolerant and weary of dealing with this issue. Unfortunately, in concluding, the article offered few solutions to a growing problem.

I suggest, if you want to write a story, tackle the problem and help find solutions.

— William J. Byrne, owner
Cafe on the Square (established 1990, when there was no one on the Square)

Editor responds: In regards to the anonymous letter, we deleted all but one of its comments about Byrne, specifically because the letter-writer wished to remain anonymous. The one comment we did let stand merely quoted one of Byrne’s previously published statements.

Marsha Barber responds: I take exception to Mr. Byrne’s assertion that I “drew a line in the sand with an “us-versus-them theme” to “create a controversial story.” I chose to write this story after hearing a steady stream of reports from numerous Asheville residents regarding the increasing tension between cops, kids and merchants in downtown Asheville — particularly at Pack Square. I did not create the controversy, but simply reported the reality of a tense situation. When I called Mr. Byrne to interview him for the article, I explained that the story — hence, the “context” in which his comments would be placed — was about the culture clash around Pack Square between cops, kids and merchants — not about some larger philosophical debate. Also, in the story, I emphasized that Mr. Byrne was a Pack Square “pioneer” who has an understandable interest in protecting a business in which he’s invested hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Accept the Speedway gift — graciously

Okay, Asheville, we’ve had our period of mourning regarding the loss of the Speedway. Now, can we please look at what has been given to the community? Namely:

• the largest dollar-value gift ever received by the city;

• a greenway, within one mile of five public schools — one which includes plans for a wetlands outdoor classroom in one direction and trails that connect to Hominy Creek Park in the other direction; and

• the possibilities of outdoor concerts, a place for our kids to play soccer, a venue for rollerblading, skateboarding, bicycling.

The Asheville Motor Speedway was the private property of Roger Gregg. The last time I checked, a hearing was not necessary to sell a private piece of property. Some people think that selling the Speedway was a sort of impetuous decision without any forethought regarding its impact on the community. Business deals in the $1 million range are rarely made overnight (thank goodness!), and the speedway was no exception. Mr. Gregg had the AMS up for sale for two to three years before RiverLink came along and wanted to buy it.

But by now, everyone knows the details, so I’ll save the rehashing of any more numbers and get to the crux of the matter. It’s a heart issue for Asheville, and numbers and documents aren’t going to mean much here. It’s a done deal. So what are we going to do about it? Maybe everyone can work together for the betterment of the community — instead of blindly jumping on the media’s slanted-journalism bandwagon. There have been a lot of unhappy and outraged people making their voices heard lately. Some are so angry that they want a brand-new city government — a desperate, drastic measure that will solve nothing, but assuage some high emotions. The old adage, “You can’t please everybody,” is certainly applicable in this case.

RiverLink gave the land to the city of Asheville — our city, your city. One of the best-loved attractions of Asheville (for the people who live here, as well as the tourists) is the natural beauty of this city and what we’ve done to preserve and enjoy it simultaneously: The Arts in the Parks series in the summer, Light Up Your Holidays in November, Riverfest in June, and the Downtown After Five events are just a few examples. What wonderful, diverse arrays of people come out for these events! For many people, this is what Asheville is all about: gathering together to celebrate what is now somewhat of an anomaly — beauty that is nurtured and revered, yet still enjoyed by the people.

I don’t hear of any plans for the land to construct an asphalt plant or slap together a strip mall that will be vacant in 10 years. It’s a park. I’ll repeat: a park. How benign can you get? How ungrateful can we be? Total funds for the purchase of the speedway were not fully realized until September. For RiverLink, it was a risk. For Asheville, a philanthropic gesture is totally lost on a community, because we wish to sit and moil in our stew like spoiled children.

I know that many people in the community would like to express heartfelt gratitude to the donors who helped RiverLink purchase the land. [The donors] are the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, the Janirve Foundation, the Biltmore Company and two anonymous donors. Their generosity has been overshadowed by cynicism and, for the most part, ignored.

— Betsy Ball

With love and bacon grease — goodbye

Yesterday, I buried a family member. My husband and I have just recently bought a home in Black Mountain, near the gates of Montreat. Our new happy home is now a cemetery.

Festus was his name. He was a fat, lovable, old yellow lab. He had been in our lives for eight years.

Our neighbor found him in her driveway late Saturday morning. His throat had been cut from the jugular across to his other ear. He was trying to make his way back home, but he never made it. Our neighbor is a nurse, and she assured us that this was no accident: The initial puncture to the jugular had to have been made with a knife.

Festus was a gentle soul. He went almost everywhere with us. I remember backpacking into a high alpine meadow in Colorado with him. My husband and I were asleep in our tent while Festus faithfully guarded the door. I woke to a soft, low growling. I opened the door to find an entire herd of elk passing by, 10 feet in front of the tent. Festus made no move toward the elk. He just respectfully let them know that we were there. This was no ordinary dog.

His main weakness was food. How could it not be, at 120 pounds? We honored him by burying him with a can of bacon drippings from the kitchen. Perhaps he wandered up to someone’s house while following a ripe trash smell. Unfortunately, what he found was pure hate. Whatever happened to trying to contact the owner of a loose dog? Whatever happened to calling Animal Control with a complaint? Whatever happened to mercy or compassion for another living creature?

A little over a year ago to the day, I married my husband. I had the honor of having Festus escort me all the way down the aisle to the altar. He then sat attentively by our sides through the entire wedding ceremony. He was an extraordinary dog.

The truly sad thing about this situation is, from what our neighbors say, that this is not an isolated incident. Other dogs have been poisoned, and some have simply “disappeared.” The only evidence we have is a trail of blood, and it is circumstantial. Perhaps we may never know who is senselessly taking our dogs’ lives.

It is ironic that on Friday night, my husband and I were walking through the festive streets of downtown Black Mountain, reveling in our new community’s warmth, diversity and sense of safety. Twelve hours later, a family member of eight years is brutally murdered. He died suffering, alone, and trying to make his way home.

Festus was not just a dog, he was our fat boy. We loved him very much, and we miss him more than words can say. I hope this letter may save another defenseless animal’s life by alerting Black Mountain residents of the danger lurking in our community. Had we known that this hatred existed near our new home, we certainly would not have let our dog out of our sight for one second. We would not have bought our home, which is now a cemetery.

In light of this tragic incident, I would like to say that our surrounding neighbors have expressed an overwhelming amount of sympathy and support in our time of grief. We thank you all from the bottom of our hearts. You have made this time easier for us, and you have renewed our faith in this community to which we are so new. You have reminded us of why we chose this small mountain town as the place that we wanted to call home.

Festus, we love you. May you rest happily forever in bacon grease.

— Katy Palombi
Black Mountain

The “I” of Hurricane 26

Living in our competitive economic system means we are often, as Joni Mitchell notes, “governed by greed and lust, with the strong doing what they can, and the weak suffering what they must.”

But even such dog-eat-dog ideals wouldn’t be so bad, if our greed-needs didn’t accelerate so fast. This high-speed greed-growth destroys the rickety perches of the weak and, these days, sometimes even stresses the fortresses of the strong. With that in mind, reading your informative article on the coming of the partly greed-inspired Interstate-26 corridor [“Is wider better?”, Nov. 25] was like seeing a severe scheme for a citywide, sado-masochistic wet dream.

Of course, west Ashevilleans in the direct path of the I-26 connector — or in the way of its accompanying hurricane of development — will suffer first and worst. That’s the usual sadistic genocide of the weak, in the name of the “necessary progress” of the strong. But soon, the strong will begin to manifest the masochism of the deed by having to breathe huge, added amounts of car crap, and by sprouting precocious neurosis, as our small-city, genteel ease collapses before the poisonous, 70-mph psychosis of frenetic-growth greed.

Oh, if we could but rise up as one and stop — with civil disobedience, if need be — those coming tractors of the terrible tragedy of I-26. Or will we always lovingly embrace any amount of S&M to satisfy our greed’s growth-needs? I, for one, will breathe in a hurricane of S&M before I risk my precious pride, hide and freedom in some awkward display of civic martyrdom.

— Bill Branyon

Drop “vermin”; address the real issues

The word “vermin” sits painfully in the ear, when applied to human beings. Not the least because it seems to carry with it, as a necessary companion, the word “exterminate.”

Mr. Beatty lists the following as examples of “urban vermin”: “drug dealers, crack-heads, panhandlers, muggers and thieves.” [Letters, Dec. 2]

I’d like to make two points, one simple and one more complex:

1) The list is misleading. Panhandling is not illegal. But here, it’s lumped together with various things that clearly are illegal. Only “aggressive panhandling,” which involves direct threats, is prohibited by the law.

2) I work on a daily basis with many people who spend large parts of their days on South Biltmore Avenue. Some of them, I’m sure, are among those Mr. Beatty would label “vermin.” The complexity of issues in their lives — the struggle to find jobs that pay enough to live on, to find any place where they can afford to live, to deal with traumas and abuse that happened before they were old enough to escape, and that have shaped all that’s happened to them since — all this is very complex, very human stuff. There are, indeed, issues here, as Mr. Beatty says. And they are, as he says, incredibly pressing. I doubt they have much to do with police work. Maybe, instead of calling on police to “tidy up” situations we’ve created in this country and in our cities through short-sighted policies and practices of all kinds, we ought to address the real stuff: jobs that pay living wages, and safe, affordable housing. And while we’re at it, why not address all the barriers and discrimination that keep those so easily labeled “vermin” from living the kinds of lives we all desperately want — lives free of fear and want, lives with hope and purpose

Maybe those who’re interested ought to get together and work on these issues. I know plenty of folks who’ll come, and I’m sure Mr. Beatty does, too. I was at a meeting where representatives of the Downtown Association, the Asheville Police Department and the Asheville Homeless Coalition discussed a number of important matters. It was a promising beginning. Let’s do more.

Meanwhile, could we try to avoid loaded words? Terms like “vermin” invite, regardless of the intent of the speaker, acts of hate — acts most likely to target those who look or smell or dress or live a little differently.

— David Schenck

Airport-parking solution

Perhaps something that would help the parking problem at the airport would be to extend Asheville’s bus system. Extending a line to the airport might just help traffic and encourage growth in South Buncombe.

— Kevin Finch

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