‘Southern Justice’ offers one aspect of county reality

April 17, 2014

Let’s be honest; when it was announced several months ago that a film crew representing the National Geographic Channel was in Ashe County filming the daily interactions between the public and the sheriff’s department, did you really think the scenes recorded would be a rosy portrayal of traditional life here? Of course not.

Did you imagine the scenes of law enforcement officers performing their daily, and occasionally dangerous, duties in keeping the citizenry safe would be educational? Perhaps, but that, of course, would depend on your definition of educational.

The sneak peeks of the upcoming NatGeo series “Southern Justice,” which includes segments filmed of the Sullivan County, Tenn., and Ashe County’s sheriffs’ offices, offer exactly what one would expect when depicting a “day in the life” of professional law enforcement officers; highly-trained and dedicated men and women who come to work each day knowing they will routinely face situations that will test their wits, compassion, courage and humor, to carry out their often difficult duties.

For those of us who focus on all that’s good about Ashe County, and that’s nearly all of us, the scenes will occasionally be uncomfortable to watch – even embarrassing. You can be sure that local residents’ lives spiraling out of control as a result of drugs, alcohol and economic circumstances, often beyond their control, will be on display in a way that will only reinforce the negative, and inaccurate, stereotype found all too often in the national media about the people who call the Appalachia region home.

As those of us here know, we are a hard-working, tough, resourceful and deeply spiritual people that strive day in and day out to try and do the next best thing for our families, friends and community.

It might be argued the decision by the sheriff and approval from the county commissioners to enter into an agreement with the film production company was not sufficiently thought out. It can also be argued that the long-term consequences of the potentially negative image of Ashe County and its residents wasn’t sufficiently considered. To use an old cliché, that horse is out of the barn.

This fall, when the show begins its weekly run on the NatGeo Channel, most county residents must be prepared for the unfortunate, but expected, negative observations and comments from others — a reality of today’s digitally-connected world. However, we’re tough and resilient and know that what the rest of America sees isn’t a completely accurate depiction of Ashe County life. Lashing out at others will only confirm the inaccurate stereotype.

Those of us here can also take comfort in knowing that the film crew could have chosen any place in this great country and found the same tragedy, despair and dysfunction, but perhaps, without the respectful and compassionate behavior our law enforcement professionals exhibited.

But in most ways, we’re no different, except that our uncomfortable realities will be offered for all to see without the balance of offering a closer look at all that is good here.