By Leslee Kulba- Commissioner Robert Pressley asked that consideration of a resolution be postponed. On the surface, it was just as Commissioner Jasmine Beach-Ferrara had said in defense of her resolution. “Sometimes in government, there’s a tendency to say in 500 words what could actually be said in six. So, if you’ll bear with me, my translation of this resolution is: Love your neighbor, and love your enemy.”
Ellen Frost distorted her face in manners indicative of incredulity and perturbation. “I can’t see the point of postponing it. This is not complicated,” she said. “We’re simply saying we don’t want people discriminated against. We’re a loving, inclusive community of all stripes. That’s what people come to Buncombe County for. And to say that we need to postpone? Something about discrimination and intimidation? I don’t understand. What’s going to change? How are we gonna change a word? When people are being ridiculed in grocery stores? When I talk to people at Buncombe County schools? And they say how they’ve never seen such violence and intimidation? And yet we as leaders of Buncombe County need to think about it?”
Frost read the resolution into the record. “(1) Hate crimes, threats, or intimidation of any kind or manner will not be tolerated; (2) Every citizen of this great County is called upon to demonstrate that intolerance and hatred will not be accepted within our community; and (3) Anyone who feels that they are being or have been discriminated against, harassed, or intimidated or have witnessed such acts, should make note of any information that may be helpful in identifying the perpetrator(s) of the discriminatory actions and contact the appropriate law enforcement official.” Protected classes were to now include, “race, color, religion, ethnicity, national origin, place of birth, ancestry, native language or accent, citizenship, immigrant status, gender, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, familial status, [or] physical or mental disability.”
When the floor was opened for public comment, Jerry Rice put the lie to the shenanigan. He said the resolution was redundant; the federal nondiscrimination clause is printed on every government document and then some. “I think it’s nothing but a Democrat and Republican party fixin’ to start a wildcat fit because we’ve got a Democrat governor coming in. We’ve got HB2, and it’s going to be a cat fight for the next four years over this stuff.” Love, he said was a no-brainer. It is manifest in how one person helps another, not in a mighty decree broadcast for television and disseminated on web sites. Rice went on to talk about how banning God and His teachings from public outlets has, by denying the obvious, let loose a raft of social ills that government is now trying to fix by having the elected few dictate detailed, complicated, flawed, and variously repealed and replaced rules encroaching on every facet of everyday life, preventing better choices. He concluded, “The more we broil it, the more it’s going to smell.”
Joe Belcher elaborated. In what would certainly qualify as hate speech in established circles, he said, “If we laid the Good Book up here, we wouldn’t have to write any more resolutions, if people really believed it from cover to cover.” He then spoke for the elucidation of no one except those inclined to believe members of the public were gullible enough to fall for the old ploy. No legislator is going to give his proposal a villainous title and say it is intended to do harm. Even those with pure intent get bitten by the proverbial unintended consequences. “Language is imperfect.” That’s why people elect representatives: To, as stewards of the public trust, perform due diligence and catch loopholes and double entendres. Belcher said the proposal appeared to be a “complicated way of supporting my beliefs,” which he said, leaning toward conservative Christianity, should also be respected.
Commissioner Mike Fryar, not mentioning any names, told how until recent history, one had to be a Democrat to work for the county. He suggested he could support the resolution if it would also forbid political propaganda in public schools. Frost said this was “dicey,” and reminded Fryar the commission had no jurisdiction over the school system, to which Fryar shot back the commission had no right to abridge the free speech of citizens, either. Fryar said he had never heard as many f-words as he had heard launched at Republicans at the recent Trump rally.
Supporters of the resolution said hate speech had escalated since the Trump victory. The same three stories were recycled among media outlets, two of which took place in Weaverville but provoked official response from Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer. The resolution was amended to include political party as a protected class, the motion to defer was defeated along party lines, then the resolution was adopted unanimously.