Violence and slurs don’t belong at festival

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

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41 thoughts on “Violence and slurs don’t belong at festival

  1. n.briggs

    I asked the police to get those people to take down their dead body “billboard” after my 7 & 8 year-olds saw it, but was told they could do nothing. It was their right to free speech. What about my right to protect my children from violence and gore? Kids can’t view porn and R-rated movies or buy explicit CD’s, but can view violent death and dead babies up close as they walk down the public street? You can get arrested for displaying an upside-down flag or ticketed for “blocking the sidewalk” with an anti-war sign, but signs depicting violent death are ok?

  2. LOKEL

    I believe it occurs because of a little something called the First Amendment.

  3. who

    I saw the huge picture of a man with a splattered brain. The first thing I thought was: Geez, there are children here guys. Very caring and compassion christians these are. I remember, as a child, seeing something like that for real. It disturbed me deeply, for quite a while and I couldn’t shake it easily, hoping nothing like that would ever happen to my mom, dad, sisters or brother. And knowing, witnessing, how it was possible. A lot of people forget how sensitive children can be – or don’t care. Freedom of speech? OK. So anybody should be able to shout obscenities at passerbyers of Bele Chere unclothed.

  4. bobaloo

    I completely agree with the disgusting signs in full view of children. That really upset me.

    The other thing that upset me was when I saw the street preachers, before the graphic signs went up, being prodded and yelled at in Pritchard Park by people who are supposedly “tolerant”. The manner in which they were treated by people who disagreed with them disgusted me, and I was actually on their side at first. Again, this was before the graphic signs went up.
    Who do people expect to convince or sway when they act like that (and that’s a question for both sides)?
    The little goth vamp kids going up and screaming in their faces and spitting were as disgusting to me as the street preachers were.

    There were no winners in this debacle, except my son. I used this as a lesson to him how people who behave irrationally, no matter how right they are, are treacherous and should be avoided at all costs.

  5. bobaloo

    Very caring and compassion christians these are
    These weren’t Christians. They were Phelps acolytes who crave attention.

  6. travelah

    “Confrontational evangelism” very rarely bears fruit. If they were peaceful protesters with photos of babies killed in the womb I would have no objections. Sometimes the truth needs to be made evident. However, if their method was to confront and shock, then they were ill advised. Nonetheless, their right of free speech and political protest is more important than the good times of certain festival goers.

  7. Sage

    I don’t agree with the sentiments expressed but they have every right to be there. The same as pro choice and gay rights groups. Bele Chere has never been a festival with a political viewpoint though. Weird timing on their part. I know the point is public exposure but it would have made more sense if they had been downtown during Exodus a few weeks ago or protesting at PP.

  8. n.briggs

    I have no problem with them being there and exressing their opinions. I just don’t want my children exposed to violent images. The First Amendment guarantees free speech and religion and the right to assemble peacefully. The graphic scenes of death endanger the well-being of my children, and therefore disturbs the peace. The amendment is written to allow for interpretation by law makers and the courts. Shout your opinions from the rooftops, I support that right. I have the right to protect my kids from violence. It has nothing to do with the “good times” of festival-goers. Much has been said about the desensitization of kids to violent images, because they are everywhere. Society has paid the price many times over.
    I am trying to protect my innocent children, whom I CHOSE to give birth to.

  9. travelah

    If you find public protest and the exercise of free speech rights to be an offense to your perceptions of what your children should be exposed to, then it is your prerogative as a parent to keep them from it. That does not mean you have the right to abrogate the Constitutionally defined rights of others.

    It is commendable that you chose the moral path in giving birth to your children.

  10. n.briggs

    The 1st Amendment states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

    We’re not talking an act of Congress here. No one suggests gagging these people, at least I don’t.

    Again, “public protest and exercise of free speech” is not the issue. I vigorously defend the right of anyone to say what they want to say, whether I agree or not. I take issue with the images of violence that were on display. I had no choice in the matter. It’s not a controversial position in my opinion. The government attempts to protect children in all other instances. Kids are not allowed to go to R-rated movies, buy explicit CD’s or pornography, etc. A public display of the sex act in the name of free speech would be prohibited. Public drunkeness or urination are arrestable offenses. Presumably this is to protect the public’s delicate sensibilities, though it inhibits the rights of the individual. The dead body with brains dashed out was meant to shock and disturb everyone. Put it in a pamphlet and hand it to consenting adults. That’s all I’m saying. I have spent the last 8 years monitoring what my kids watch on TV and movies, see on the computer, or read in books. Studies have shown that violent images have harmed kids and society in ways that can’t be undone. This, to me, is the definition of a clear and present danger. All of my vigilance on the part of my children is undermined when those same images I have been protecting them from are on display in the middle of downtown.

    But you are right Travelah, to say I can keep my kids from those images in the future. I have attended Bele Chere every year for I don’t know how long, and spent much money there as well. We have always enjoyed the music and the people and seeing friends who come up just for the event. Next year I think we will have to sit it out, now that I know those images may be right around the corner. I was simply blindsided this year.

  11. k.special

    I do not think people should be denied any “freedoms” to protest on festival weekends, unfortunately there is no accounting for good taste or manners by some. And the posters shown that day were definately inappropriate. I would suggest that the City Council be urgued to help us with this issue. Permits should be used on festival weekends in order to manage the crowds. These people should be allowed to protest in a particular city block away from the masses for safety issues. Definately not in a central location such as Pax’s Square or Pritchard Park. This would keep the area contained and protect innocent bystandards from being harmed if violence should errupt.

  12. n.briggs

    The same people who have no problem displaying death for all to see would probably take issue with the exposed breast of a breasfeeding mother or a gay couple holding hands.

    I don’t know the answer to this problem, but I hope something can be done to protect the kids who may be exposed to something they should not have to handle while eating their funnel cake. I would like to choose the time and the place to discuss these issues with my kids.

    Since the courts saw fit to uphold the right of anti-abortion activists to display aborted babies to middle-school children, I suppose the government’s attempts to suppress the media’s publishing photos of dead soldiers and flag-draped coffins is unconstitutional?

    Funny how the “law” applies in some cases, but not in others in the present environment. Children are allowed to see graphic images of dead babies and the smashed brains of an accident victim, but cannot handle information about contraception in public schools. The American people can sacrifice its sons and daughters to war, but not see the real images of that war. “Free speech” in the form of violence and intolerance of homosexuals and other “sinners” is protected, but protests against the powers that be are suppressed on a regular basis, even on a local level in this “liberal” town.

    I don’t know much about Constitutional law, but I know double-standards when I see them. If dead soldiers are intolerable to our sensiblities, why are dead babies and accident victims okay? Manipulation of the press and suppression of dissent is okay, but asking a group to take down a photo upsetting to small children (not to mention many adults) is not. I feel I’m in the Twilight Zone. What would Jesus say?

  13. travelah

    I do not think isolating protesters and those exercising their 1st amendment rights would pass constitutional muster. Putting protesters out of sight in order to prevent their message from being stated defeats the purpose of the amendment. Besides, soapbox advocates have already established their constitutional rights in several court cases.

  14. k.special

    Travelah, you just not getting it which is the problem with most people. You are only seeing black and white. I am not saying to put them out of sight just because I do not like what they are saying. I am saying put them on a less busy street so that if a riot occurs innocent people who are just walking buy won’t get hurt or trampled. It is also for the protestors safety. Also, police can’t handle the crime as is, why should 50+ tpolicemen have to be pulled away from the public who may really need there services to protect people who are not being courteous of others rights? They could be helping someone who is being mugged or whatever the curcumstance.If you read Shanna Jensen’s article in the paper this week about this subject you will be well enlightened. It is also in the opinion section of the mountain x.But not posted here.

    Not everything is black and white. These laws were not created for people to take advantage. I am sure when the constitution was being written, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams didn’t say to themselves, hey, let’s creat an amendment where people can show pictures of dead children to the general public, and yell racial slurs at people. Please!

    And, by the way. Lots of cities are doing permits, limited to certain areas for protestors on festival weekends. Do your research… We would not be denying any rights only protecting all involved.

  15. travelah

    Christopher, you are quite mistaken. I have no litmus test regarding free speech rights of any group.

    k.special, the link I provided earlier demonstrates the problem with your “non black & white” solution. The violence you use as an excuse is referred to as a “hecklers veto”. Our constitutional rights are not subject to the violence of disruptive elements opposed to the messages of those who protest.

    To be fair, I am not at all surprised several of you are opposed to the free speech rights of the groups in question. Their opinions are not your own.

  16. k.special

    Once again here we go with the assumptions, Travelah. I actually do agree with some of the opinions of the protestors. I do not belive in abortion as an option for myself, I do not believe in drinking and driving, these were the contents of the offensive posters. The issue is freedom of speech. I don’t care what they say or post as far as what is written in words on a sign. Notice I say “written”. Children can understand a picture, and be affected and inflicted by a obsene picture. Funny that these people as fighting for “childrens rights” but yet are so careless about what they put out there for children to see. Regardless, I can not change the law but we can ask that our city exercise the right to flex the law in the hopes to protect people to the best of their abilities. Personally I do not want to silence anyone, no matter what their belief, I want us protect all. Here is an example of how peace permits have worked effectively.

    I realize that the so called “peace permits” could open our city up to lawsuits but I feel as though it is something that has to be explored, for all involved. I feel as though a solution or resolution is possible.

  17. n.briggs

    I don’t want my kids to see dead bodies = I oppose free speech…

    Great leap of logic-a false dichotomy that seems to make sense, but falls apart under scrutiny. Along the same lines as “if you oppose the war, then you are on the side of the terrorists.”

    Wouldn’t a dose of common sense be refreshing?

    It has nothing to do with whether I agree with the opinions of the protesters. “Alcohol kills” is a viewpoint I could agree with, in theory. I can see both sides of the abortion issue, being a woman and a mother. The article posted by Christopher is a perfect example of the way the 1st amendment can be selectively applied. When real people and real lives are involved, there is no black and white.

  18. Rob Close

    Ok, here’s the big “duh” about this.

    We can say whatever we want – but we can’t shout FIRE! – for public safety reasons. If these protesters were causing a scene, then for god’s sakes APD should have done something.

    There are legal limits to free speech – such as inciting a riot. Anything that creates a dangerous situation. It sounds like the counter-protesters were being jerks too, but that just proves that the original protesters were creating a volatile scene.

    And this IS a family festival. The location + timing = unsafe. We’ve already decided as a town that there are limits on protesting due to these issues – so how come the Christians are allowed to get away with this, and anti-war protesters are made to jump through hoops and sometimes get beaten? (i’ve seen it, so don’t bother denying it)

    Heck, APD gets in my face if I try to juggle at Bele Chere, due to SAFETY. $^&#*ing SAFETY! I’M NOT ALLOWED TO JUGGLE DUE TO SAFETY! And these people can cause a potentially violent scene?!?

    Our culture let’s Christians get away with nearly anything. Our idea of a terrorist never thinks of abortion-clinic bombers or activists who espouse murdering doctors. What’s wrong with this picture?

  19. Rob Close

    building on that last post – i wonder what would happen if there were anti-christianity protests at future festivals/events downtown? would those protesters be allowed to continue, or would it be too risky?

  20. k.special

    I was the one who wrote this article originally. I am so happy to see that there are so many fellow Ashevillians who share my concerns. Please write to our city council people, the mayor and also the chief of police. Lets do everything in our power to help make our city safe for our children. Thanks.
    Here is a link for the city council members. I sent them my letter posted here and got great response, please do the same.

  21. travelah

    Not a thing would happen if there were anti-Christianity protests in downtown Asheville. It’s not a particularly “Christian friendly” town. As for the protesters at the festival, they have been conducting their misguided protests for a few years now. I saw the same folks last year. They will be back next year. There is a reason why the police officer does not force them to stop. It is within their right to soapbax their “message” and unless the pictures can be deemed pornographic by community standards, guess what?? they are going to continue.

  22. travelah

    Great leap of logic-a false dichotomy that seems to make sense, but falls apart under scrutiny. Along the same lines as “if you oppose the war, then you are on the side of the terrorists.”

    n-briggs, I am not equating anything. I am simply stating that your objections in this matter do not abrogate one’s free speech rights on volatile political issues. I would rather tolerate the nut cases than risk an eroding of what is a basic fundamental Constitutional right. The pendulum always shifts and what you find reasonable to censor today will become an intolerable censorship for you tomorrow.

  23. I hate to admit it, but I’m with travelah on this one. As gruesome as those images are, I had to explain to my then 5 year old son who the Angel of Death was during LAAFF festival (protesting the Iraq War). It scared him, and I didn’t appreciate them being at a kid-friendly festival. However, being more of a Constitutionalist in nature, I know that he has the right to be there.

    Briggs, next time let’s fight fire with fire. I’m going to blow up one of our magnets to poster size to protest right along with them.

    Warning to Christians, this might piss you off…

  24. k.special

    The comments made here about Christians are really sad. Asheville is a “christian” friendly town. If you notice there is a christian church of some type on every other city block. Those building aren’t just there for the pretty architecture. They are filled every Sunday with people who believe in their faith.

    I hate the bad wrap christians get. I am Christian, I do not push my religion on anyone. I respect all faiths and the people that practice them. We are not all bible beating heritics standing on street corners screaming slurs.

    This subject has gotten out of hand. I am glad to see that their are fellow Ashevillians out there who share the same concerns about this festival as I do. Write your city council members and tell them how you feel about this subject. Lets help make our city safe. Here is a link to their email.

  25. travelah

    Orbit, why would you hate to agree with me. I’m more sensible than many.
    The link you present doesn’t piss me off. As a theological apologist, I already am familiar with the nature of the world that produces such things having been of that mindset myself. Contrary to your misperception, most Christians are not looking to beat people over the head with their sins.

  26. n.briggs

    LOL…sounds like a plan, Orbit!

    I am sure that most Christians do not find these forms of “preaching” to be constructive. I don’t think we should lump them in with these haters. The lunatic fringe is anything but “Christ-like.” The goal of these people is to inflame, not to “save” anyone. They are to Christianity what the Taliban are to Islam.

    I think I’ll take a can of spray paint along next year and exercise my freedom of expression on those signs.

  27. reptile frenchie

    The CIA/PSY-OPS mafia that secretly runs this town rears its ugly head- no way the cops don’t intervene unless it was secretly sanctioned.

  28. “The comments made here about Christians are really sad. Asheville is a “christian” friendly town. If you notice there is a christian church of some type on every other city block. Those building aren’t just there for the pretty architecture. They are filled every Sunday with people who believe in their faith.”

    I think that some fundamentalists find Asheville to be Sodom and Gomorrah and ramp up their efforts here more than other places in the South.

    Growing up Baptist, I know that most Christians are good honest people and mean no disrespect to them. However, this fringe group needs to be dealt with accordingly, meaning that we need to shock them as much as they are trying to shock others.

    I’ve thought about doing the same thing for PETA demonstrations that also use graphic imagery.

  29. chuck

    travelah-“I do not think isolating protesters and those exercising their 1st amendment rights would pass constitutional muster. Putting protesters out of sight in order to prevent their message from being stated defeats the purpose of the amendment. Besides, soapbox advocates have already established their constitutional rights in several court cases.”

    have you ever heard of the bush administration’s ‘free speech zones”?

  30. coursepate

    I am sure if the APD were interested they could come up with disorderly conduct charges, disturbing the peace, or some sort of nuisance law to deal with free speech where the intent is to provoke and disrupt a community event.
    Everyone wants to protect the right to free speech, but we all need to use good judgement. Verbally inciting others to the point where violence is a real potential is justification enough for moving the sox box preachers to an out of the way location …

  31. travelah

    chuck, are you a fan of GW Bush and his “free speech zones”. Check out the link I provided earlier where the courts have just recently addressed similar issues.

  32. myopinioncountstoo

    You guys just aren’t getting it. It is not about censoring anyone, it is not about hiding them in some alley. It is about the rights of the people at this festival to be safe. The first sentence in the “free Speech Zone” amendment says “Peaceful Protests”. There was nothing peaceful about the protests that weekend, it took so many on duty policemen to protect them, that it took away from everyone elses right to be protected. They invaded the rights of everyone their, their right to be safe.

  33. chuck


    The link you provided makes no mention of The Bush Administration’s frequent use of what they call “Free Speech Zones” They have been used at every major protest for the past 7 years. Why no loud protest from you about these un-consititutional acts for nearly a decade now, that have sought to prevent tens of thousands (as opposed to the two people cited in the article you mentioned) from exercising their right to protests?

  34. travelah

    chuckie, the link discusses a very recent court case that goes to the heart of the issue.

    myopinioncountstoo, the potential violence was not indicative of the actions of those exercising their 1st amendment rights but on the part of the crowd instead. The violent actions of a heckler do not abrogate one’s 1st amendment rights. Perhaps you need to ask yourself why it took so many police to protect them and not protect the hecklers?

  35. myopinioncountstoo

    Travelah, the answer is because these people are not being responsible with the way they are presenting their case to the public. They could make their cases know just by posting simple words and phrases, instead they choose to use propaganda that would insight a riot. Most of the people yelling at them were not yelling because they didn’t agree with their platform per say, it was the way that they chose to display it. It was completely irresponsible, and they knew that they would get a reaction which is what they are really looking for. You are fooling yourself if you think those who chose to display horror were doing it to make a point about their platforms, they were doing it to p#ss people off. That is the intention.
    We all know that the best way to get respect is to give it.That is common sense. Like someone said very early on, there is no black and white. You have to be responsible if you are going to post propaganda for the world to see, and really want to affect people. These people only want to inflict. These laws were not put into effect to be abused. I understand that the laws are very unclear right now as to what is actually acceptable, but I garantee it will not stay this way forever. It is only a legal loophole. You have to have loose morals to be OK with this. Sad really.

  36. travelah

    myopinion, It is a serious matter of protecting a basic constitutional right regardless of the issue. I have stated this before but it bears repeating. The pendulum swings both ways and what you wish to be banned today will be something you wish to cherish tomorrow.

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