Along with other Asheville citizens and visitors I have spoken with, I am outraged about the events that took place at Bele Chere 2008. The propaganda that was displayed during a family festival was absolutely disgusting and dangerous for people passing by Pritchard Park. I am a firm believer in freedom of speech, but I feel as though a line was crossed, and we need to do something to ensure that citizens and visitors to our city are safe.
I—and thousands of people, including small children and families—saw pictures of dead babies, a person with their head smashed and brains all over a road, blown up to 15-foot banners. This was not a quiet protest; people were yelling in each other’s faces, screaming homosexual slurs. It is one thing for people to have words written on a sign that a child under five cannot read. It is another thing for someone to hold an 8-foot picture that even the smallest child can see and understand.
How can the city and organizers of this festival allow children to be blatantly exposed to these types of pictures? People should have the right to not have to explain these issues to their children until the time that they deem ready and it can be explained in a nurturing way. If a riot had occurred, and the 50 to 100 policemen who were standing by had to break up the mass, innocent bystanders would have gotten hurt. It was scary and unnecessary. Our city should not allow this to take place during a family festival. The protestors were absolutely inciting a riot and nothing was done by police or city leaders.
Graphic violence and homosexual slurs should not be allowed in a public arena. If they were nude pictures of children or even of adults, would this be allowed too? I just don’t understand where the line is drawn. If this city does nothing to protect its children and citizens, who will? Our city’s economy thrives on its visitors. Is this the kind of impression we want to make? I am embarrassed and was afraid, and I want to know that something will be done next year to ensure this does not happen again.
— K. Bailey