Photo Credit: Joshua L. Jones
Mokah Johnson with rapper Versatyle tha Wildchyld and Athens for Everyone’s Tim Denson.
If you are one of those who has dismissed numerous reports of downtown bars using selectively applied dress codes to turn away African Americans as a few isolated incidents or whining by entitled college students, maybe this will open your eyes.
On a day when the wind chill was well below freezing, an estimated 400 people marched through downtown to protest discriminatory practices at certain bars—not to mention the broader perception that downtown as a whole is not welcoming to people of color. Sure, somebody is protesting something downtown just about every week, but those rallies typically draw a few dozen people.
Mokah Johnson, a teacher and hip hop promoter who moved here from Orlando, FL three years ago, helped organize the march after Flagpole published an article last year on General Beauregard’s infamous “n*****ita” drink and allegations of discrimination at other downtown bars. But the issue was nothing new to her. “People [of color] are skeptical about going downtown,” she said. “People are skeptical that we can even have an event downtown.”
While UGA student government has been collecting tales of discrimination for months, Johnson said she wanted to involve permanent residents as well, because they deal with the same problems—and “they have been oppressed for so long, they don’t try to be proactive.”
“I saw the college students were speaking out, but it was overlooked that this is not just a college issue,” she said. “To me, it’s not UGA’s downtown, it’s the city’s downtown.”
(To be clear, though, Johnson is talking about bars and clubs on the student side of the “khaki line.” She’s never had an issue with those around the historically African-American Hot Corner at Hull and Washington. “Anything on that side of town, you’re probably straight,” she said.)
Johnson reached out to Athens-Clarke County Commissioner Melissa Link, who put her in touch with Tim Denson of the progressive political group Athens for Everyone and the UGA and Clarke County chapters of the NAACP. The march was intended to urge the ACC Commission to pass a resolution that is the first step toward a local anti-discrimination ordinance (which, as it turned out, they’d already passed by the time the march on MLK Day rolled around). The ordinance would give ACC the power to revoke the alcohol license of a bar that discriminates.
One of the challenges will be enforcement—proving that a bar is discriminating (which is illegal) and not merely enforcing a dress code (which is legal) across the board. That’s why Denson has proposed a “human relations commission.” Many cities have such commissions; in Atlanta, its purpose is to serve as “a vehicle for addressing illegal discrimination in public accommodations, private employment and housing within the city.” Generally, Atlanta’s HRC uses mediation and persuasion to resolve complaints, but it does have the power to recommend that the mayor revoke professional and business licenses.
Denson also called for the ACC Commission to broaden the proposed anti-discrimination ordinance to include all types of businesses that are considered “public accommodations” under the law.
While marchers chanted slogans like, “Shut them down!” and “These racist bars have got to go!” Johnson thinks that might be taking things a bit too far. Part of the purpose of a human relations commission would be to investigate and verify reports of discrimination. If true, Johnson said she’d prefer to warn business owners, giving them a chance to correct the problem before sanctioning them.
Whatever penalties are enacted, something needs to be done, because it doesn’t seem like attitudes are changing. As the marchers—a diverse group that included whites, African Americans and Latinos of all ages—headed toward City Hall, Johnson noted a woman locking the doors of a College Square dress shop.
“There were some side comments,” she said. “When we were crossing the street, some [drivers] acted like they didn’t want to stop.”
Hopefully, Johnson, Denson and the hundreds of others who’ve gotten involved on this issue won’t stop, either. A follow-up meeting to discuss the human relations commission idea is scheduled for 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 7 at the ACC Library. [Blake Aued]
Are Greeks to Blame?: A report including more than 50 incidents of discrimination in downtown Athens accuses several bars popular for Greek events and claims events are used as an excuse to deny African American students entrance.
The report was put together by Andrew Roberts of the Student Government Association, who decided to collect anecdotal evidence of discrimination, an issue they “identified early [last] semester,” Roberts said.
“We wanted to have evidence that this is happening,” he said. “Had we gotten five or 10 responses it wouldn’t have been indicative of much I don’t think, but we got 50 very consistent testimonies of discrimination,” Roberts says.
The list includes testimonies against numerous bars, many of which are popular locations for fraternity and sorority events. The document includes two incidents when Whiskey Bent doormen allegedly denied entry to African Americans because of a fraternity event, and three similar instances at private parties. One respondent who identified herself as a sorority member reported the discrepancy between the bouncer’s reason for denying them entry and the rules for fraternity events, saying it was late enough where the event restrictions were not in place. The incident happened at 1 a.m., but the fraternity party ended at 11 p.m., and the bar was letting others in, she reported. However, Thomas Paris, an employee in the UGA Greek Life office, told Flagpole that what time the bar will be open to regular patrons depends on the bar and the fraternity.
On a different night, a black student reported that she was the only African American in her group attempting to enter Whiskey Bent—and the only one denied. According to her report, her friends entered before her, but she was told it was a closed “fraternity social.” In response to the incident, she said she was “livid,” asking herself, “What part about me, other than my color, would have driven him to say something to me and not my friends?”
A similar incident occurred at Jerzee’s in 2013, according to the report, when two black female students were denied entry due to a private party, although they reported that they knew two of their friends were already inside the bar and not part of the “private party.” Almost the exact same thing happened at Bourbon Street, with black students reporting they already had friends inside the bar but they were denied entry due to a private party. In response to the incident, the students said they “felt worthless.”
It is unclear if fraternities and sororities will continue to use bars that are reported to be discriminatory, as Paris said he does not have enough information to comment.
Roberts, who collected the reports, says that he does not believe Greek events are a “direct issue,” and instead the bars themselves are to blame. [Evelyn Andrews]
Neighborhood Traffic: Any ACC commissioner will tell you that speeding in neighborhoods is the No. 1 issue people call them about. It’s also a tough problem to solve. Local police can’t run radar on side streets, and speed humps are expensive, annoying and don’t always work. Some drivers “get frustrated with the speed humps, and between the speed humps they nail it,” ACC traffic engineer Steve Decker said.
But there a few simple things that can help, Decker told commissioners during a committee meeting last week. For example, removing center lines from neighborhood streets psychologically tells drivers they’re not on a highway, and attaching a plate saying “residential” to speed-limit signs has a similar effect. “It’s amazing what a difference it makes,” Decker said.
Currently, only streets with at least 750 vehicles per day on which 15 percent of vehicles travel faster than 35 miles per hour are eligible for ACC’s traffic management program. Staff is bringing forward a proposal to lower the threshold to 500 vehicles per day, which would make an additional 12 streets eligible. In particular, Commissioner Melissa Link said she’d like to see traffic calming on streets where there are daycares and after-school activities, such as Park Avenue, Evans Street and Hawthorne Extension. [BA]
Make America Great Again: If you are not already registered to vote, the last day to register in time to cast a ballot in the Democratic or Republican presidential primary is Monday, Feb. 1. Go to the Georgia Secretary of State’s website or the ACC Board of Elections page for more information. Early voting will be held weekdays Feb. 8–26 and Saturday, Feb. 20 at the Board of Elections office on Washington Street next to City Hall. Election Day is Tuesday, Mar. 1. Unlike past presidential elections, as one of several Southern states that scheduled their primaries fairly early in the process, Georgia will play a key role in who gets both parties’ nominations. [BA]
Downtown Chainz: The latest round of freaking out about the downtown Zaxby’s has brought to my attention that few people know that the chicken-finger chain is based in Athens. Well, it is. Does that make you feel better? (In other Zaxby’s newz, several rumorz about where the company is building its corporate headquarterz are false; the new office park will be next to its current headquarters off Daniells Bridge Road.)
As for rationalizing your excitement over the new Lego Wendy’s on Prince Avenue, you’re on your own. [BA]