By Leslee Kulba
Asheville – Former local law enforcement officer Lee Barrett still believes there’s hope for Asheville and Buncombe County. Having grown up in the area, his recollections of Buncombe are filled with Southern hospitality and neighborly kindness. People looked after each other and made the community a nice place to live. Over time, that’s been lost to neo-liberals seeking instant gratification without regard to how it puts others out. The latest riots with their senseless destruction, and government’s inexplicable complacency, finally stirred him to create Save Buncombe County, a group with a private FaceBook and a Gofundme page.
Barrett said the government is making decisions without community input. In recent months, this was seen with a number of items being added to the commissioners’ agenda as the meeting started. This didn’t give people with ideas challenging the single point of view presented a chance to be heard. Then, there are Commissioner Anthony Penland’s complaints about his Democrat colleagues, at least three times, discussing matters among themselves during the week only to let the Republicans on the board in the loop hours before a vote.
Weighing more heavily on Barrett’s mind, however, are the county’s and the state’s anti-Constitutional acts. Buncombe County Chair Brownie Newman put into effect stay-home orders as an emergency order, without input from the public or a vote by their representatives. The orders, “forced people to wear a mask, forced businesses to close, forced people to become unemployed, without due process of law or financial assistance.”
Barrett said Newman and Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer were acting like the “king and queen,” as if they had no responsibility to listen to conservative voices. Instead, they were capitulating to the radical left, a group he estimated to make up only 15% of the population.
Barrett, now in his 60s, said when he was in law enforcement, officers took an oath to enforce all laws. Now, amidst rioting, vandalism, and even an apartment complex burning down from suspected arson, the police chief and the mayor are deciding which laws to enforce.” This puts officers in a difficult position.
Back in the day, officers were supposed to charge people they found breaking the law, and the courts were to decide whether a person was guilty or innocent. Now, the mayor and police chief have decided anybody flaunting narcotics laws and traffic ordinances – not to mention those defacing public property or shutting down the interstate – will be innocent.
Asheville Police Chief David Zack, Barrett said, was negligent in his duty to protect all citizens. Officers, he said, have more than once been given stand-down orders during the riots. He said the mayor was within her rights and did well to call a curfew, but she and the chief should have enforced it. Without public input, the city is now using taxpayer dollars to reimburse protesters for the medic tent police destroyed on information and belief it was supplying rioters with projectiles of unknown liquids to throw at them, remove the “defund the police” road graffiti that officers could have prevented in the first place, and cover the Vance Memorial until a task force can figure out what to do with it. (The latter is costing $2,600 a month for scaffolding rental plus $18,500 to install the shroud.)
Local government is enabling destruction. It hands out hypodermic needles, and now it’s going to dissolve its drug-suppression unit. It doesn’t enforce traffic ordinances fearing accusation of profiling, etc. Barrett suspects there’s a double-standard, but he has too much respect for old-school values to take a spray can to public property to prove his point. Across the country, local governments are caving to groups that want to dictate policy that removes power from the police force so they can have “free reign to raise havoc.” Barrett was at a loss to see how any good could come from any of it.
Barrett can’t stress enough, “Race has nothing to do with this.” To be sure, he related, “’I reached out to quite a few black friends and clients and asked, ‘As a black person, does that monument uptown offend you?’” Like most people today, who can find no better word for slavery than “evil,” they said they see the monuments as having been erected not to slavery but to local politicians from 200 years ago. Barrett values history as a way of teaching future generations. If people see the statues as highly-visible reminders of slavery, then they could actually start conversations about “what happened and why it was wrong.”
Barrett realized he was working on behalf of people too busy to show up at public meetings, people who weren’t organized enough to get a majority elected to local government. Feeling those in office would only continue to be unresponsive to anything he and other conservatives had to say, he launched Save Buncombe County to work within the law, at the polls and in the courts, to give voice to the voiceless conservatives. Its GoFundMe has raised over $8,000, and its Facebook group has more than 4,000 members.
Barrett said the group will be working with the Rawlings Law Firm out of Winston-Salem. He said it was difficult to get a local attorney to take his case, his cause being the target of a radicalized, organized, and well-funded movement. Save Buncombe County is a private Facebook group accepting new members, but it has rules. One states, “Make sure everyone feels safe. Bullying of any kind isn’t allowed, and degrading comments about things like race, religion, culture, sexual orientation, gender, or identity will not be tolerated.”