Thursday, August 23, 2007

Asheville Citizen-Times ~ Infecting Asheville With Right-Wing Bias

Here is what the Asheville Citizen-Times has been printing about the 'highway blogger':

This first article is vague at best:

Charges against ‘highway blogger’ will change

ASHEVILLE — Police said Thursday that it would change charges against a man who held an “impeach Bush, Cheney” sign from a bridge over Interstate 240.

Jonas Phillips, a 35-year-old West Asheville resident, said he had recently taken up “highway blogging,” a protest practice of displaying signs of political discontent from highway overpasses.

Police cited him Wednesday for obstructing the sidewalk but said Thursday a N.C. Department of Transportation violation would be more fitting.

Phillips said he had the signed propped on the Haywood Road bridge railing over I-240.

He had not been charged with the new violation, a class 1 misdemeanor, by late Thursday night.

“The intent was public safety and the banner being a hazard,” Asheville police Capt. Wade Wood said. “That’s basically to the benefit of the motoring public.”

Wood said there was a possibility of the sign falling on motorists below. The sign had not been returned pending court proceedings, he said.

Phillips said he was not blocking the sidewalk while holding his 5-by-1 foot sign. He said he was aware of that ordinance and not trying to break it.

Police gave him no warning to move before putting him under arrest, Phillips said.

“I don’t want people in Asheville to be scared of protesting,” he said. “I wasn’t asking for trouble.”


This second article, by a different reporter, relays what was said in the APD press release and was printed online only:

Police Consider Additional Charges against 'Highway Blogger

ASHEVILLE — Police Chief Bill Hogan said Tuesday the department would consult with the district attorney’s office before moving forward on an additional charge against a man accused of obstructing a sidewalk.

Jonas Phillips was charged Aug. 15 with violating a city law after hanging a sign over an Interstate 240 overpass, Hogan said in a news release Monday.

Phillips, a 35-year-old West Asheville resident, said he was “highway blogging” by holding a 5-foot-by-1-foot cardboard sign reading “Impeach Bush, Cheney,” which he said he propped on the bridge railing.

Police said Phillips’ sign was creating a traffic hazard. “It was not the content of the sign, but the risks posed to drivers that precipitated our actions,” Hogan said.

The department is considering charging Phillips with violating an N.C. Department of Transportation law that prohibits hanging signs on an overpass, which poses dangers for motorists passing below.


This latest one was in the Opinion section and expresses the 'Citizen-Times Viewpoint':

Political messages should not interfere with traffic
published August 22, 2007
author unknown

It would be hard to find stauncher advocates of free speech and the right of people to protest the actions of their government than a group of journalists. But it’s time to draw the line when it comes to endangering people’s lives to get out a message that could just as well be broadcast without the threat of harm to others. That’s akin to yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater.

Which is to say Asheville Police acted properly in arresting a man holding a sign over the side of the Haywood Road/Interstate 240 overpass. Such behavior is a threat to public safety and rightfully carries legal consequences.

The arrest occurred shortly after 8 a.m. Aug. 15 after a person flagged down an officer on Haywood Road and told him that a man was standing on the I-240 overpass and obstructing traffic. When the officer arrived he found Jonas Phillips, 35, holding a sign over the overpass. Phillips walked across the bridge through three lanes of traffic.

When the officer caught up with him, he asked Phillips how long he intended to be there, according to a police account. Phillips said he would be there until he had to go to work. The officer called his supervisor, Sgt. Randy Riddle, who came to the bridge and told Phillips he was violating the city’s municipal code that prohibits obstructing streets and sidewalks.

As Phillips held his sign over the edge of the bridge, drivers on the interstate were slowing down and honking their horns, creating a traffic hazard and impeding the flow of traffic, the officers said.

Danger to motorists

The officers charged Phillips with violating the city code, but he also could be charged with violating a state law that prohibits hanging signs on overpasses, which poses a danger to motorists passing below.

Because the sign Phillips held contained a political message, “Impeach Bush, Cheney,” critics are accusing the Police Department with infringing on Phillips’ constitutional free speech rights.

“The sergeant (who arrested Phillips) didn’t even see what was on the sign,” Police Chief Bill Hogan said Tuesday. “It was never about the message. It wasn’t the content of the sign. We had gotten complaints that he was obstructing traffic.”

Hogan said the department received multiple complaints last month about individuals holding up signs at the same spot.

Unwelcome distraction

Anyone who regularly drives Interstate 240 knows how dangerous the highway is at the best of times. The speed limit on the section that flows under the Haywood Road overpass is 55 mph. At 8 a.m., it is heavily traveled.

On such a road, a driver’s full attention should be on driving. A person leaning out from an overpass holding a sign with content likely to cause drivers to slow down or react by honking their horns is an unacceptable distraction. There’s also the possibility that the protester could drop the sign on a windshield, causing a driver to brake or swerve. At highway speed, a collision could be fatal.

If such an accident occurred after police were alerted and failed to arrest the protester causing the distraction, we would be among the first to hold the department accountable.

Police actions correct

Phillips, a West Asheville resident who insists he “wasn’t asking for trouble,” said he has recently taken up “highway blogging,” a protest practice of displaying signs of political discontent from highway overpasses.

If he wants to avoid trouble, he should reconsider his means of getting his message out. It’s irresponsible and against the law. There are plenty of places Phillips can display his sign to large audiences without posing a danger to the motoring public.

“I don’t want people in Asheville to be scared of protesting,” he said. He needn’t worry. Asheville residents and others regularly protest at Pack Square and other locations in the city. The Police Department protects and facilitates protests that don’t break city or state laws.


Please, if you care about fairness, write a letter to the Editor of the Asheville Citizen-Times. Hopefully they will be fair enough to print it.

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