I was truly and sadly disappointed at the piece “Asheville’s Most Arrested” by David Forbes, in the March 19 issue of the Mountain Xpress.
What on earth is the point of further humiliating men and women who are homeless, at the bottom end of their resources? Almost all of these arrests were for the various results of homelessness, such as drinking in public, urinating in public and so on.
Surely you must be aware that drunkenness is typically a symptom, not always—or even usually—a cause of their troubles? Most of these arrests were for mental and social problems, not law enforcement. And it’s not just the homeless who have a problem if they need a bathroom. Tell me where the public toilets are—for everyone? What I see are signs in store and restaurant windows reading: “Our restrooms for customers only.”
And yet, when a real crime story is offered [to] Mountain Xpress, it is ignored. As you may or may not remember, a resident of Chicken Alley/Lexington Avenue, Todd Short, was convicted of selling [nearly $2 million] worth of computers he never delivered and is now serving time in federal prison for his crimes.
We, the residents of Chicken Alley at that time several years ago, knew what was going on and offered the story on a silver platter to Brian Sarzynski, but it was ignored by either Brian or the editors/publisher of Mountain Xpress. Mr. Short had everyone snowed. John Boyle of the Asheville Citizen-Times praised his phony law-and-order stance (although Boyle did subsequently report that the FBI was scrutinizing Short). Mr. Short had hired off-duty cops to sit at the upper end of Chicken Alley in Asheville police cars to protect his interests, and the local TV station ran a story about him cleaning up the neighborhood.
However, none of the media, other than the Mountain Xpress (which did not run the story), asked the other residents of Chicken Alley, Carolina Lane or Lexington Avenue about Todd Short—and he was an immediate neighbor of mine.
Why not [pick on] him, and yet pick on these poor homeless men and women? There are some grossly misplaced standards in the local press, including, unfortunately, the Mountain Xpress, my favorite local paper.
— John Anderson
Senior Editor Peter Gregutt responds: Mr. Anderson makes some good points about the plight of the homeless. But far from trying to humiliate anyone, our story was designed to spotlight those very problems.
As for the Todd Short case, rest assured that we neither ignored it nor were “snowed” by Short. After an extensive investigation, however, we concluded that we didn’t have enough hard evidence to justify trying a private citizen in print in a case that, although disturbing, centered on private business transactions rather than broader social issues. Sometimes, even when we “know” or think we know something, our commitment to responsible, careful journalism overrides our desire to “get the story.”