The Oxford Board of Aldermen held a fifth public hearing Tuesday night on an ordinance aimed to reduce underage drinking and impose new safety regulations for event venues and for businesses that sell alcohol.
After several citizens voiced concerns over the implications of the proposals, the board decided not to vote on the ordinance and discuss it further at a later meeting.
Earlier in the week, owner of The Lyric Oxford, Bradley Bishop, sent an email asking citizens to call and email the mayor and the board asking them to oppose the ordinance.
“We should reject the false choice between public safety and our ideals,” Bishop said. “ We are happy to work with law enforcement so they can staff appropriately, but the proposed ordinance restrains expression and chills your rights to assemble-a fundamental right under the First Amendment.”
Oxonian Ruby Kelley said she thinks another task force needs to be established to look more in depth at the problem and ensure all citizens of Oxford are represented in the ordinance.
“I can see that this ordinance could lead to a discriminatory practice,” Kelley said. “I would suggest and encourage the board… to include all of our population, so that down the road it would not discriminate.”
Ole Miss student Jarvis Benson delivered a statement on behalf of Susan Glisson, founding director of the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation, who said she has pondered why this proposed ordinance has solicited so much emotion.
“The April incident that spurred this current effort has racial overtones,” Glisson said. “We can all observe that the Oxford Square tends to be a space used mostly by white folks, even as we may all desire for it to be inclusive. But as I understand it, the event in April was attended mostly by black folks. So, when the response to the shooting is this ordinance to control Square traffic, for some of us, it touches our concerns about sending messages of exclusion, even if, on its face, that is not what the City intends to do.”
Oxford Mayor Robyn Tannehill said the ordinance is not a response to one particular event, but that it is the result of a series discussions and a studies that date back to 2003.
“This ordinance is not a response to one incident,” Tannehill said. “It’s a long overdue response, I believe, to events and circumstances that have arisen due to dramatic growth in our community, dramatic growth in our campus population and really changes in drinking habits and availability of alcohol in Oxford.”
“We’ve got to address that we have an underage drinking problem,” Tannehill said. “Is this ordinance going to solve this? No, but we can’t pretend this problem doesn’t exist.”
Oxford Police Department Chief Joey East said the ordinance is also a response to the way policing has changed over time and OPD used to be able to predict when mass crowds would be on the Square.
“We were able to go after infractions like minor in possession… We were able to do things we now can’t do. We’ve gone from a very proactive approach to a very reactive approach to policing.”
Griffin Tanner, owner of The Levee, asked the board “If we’re talking about safety and underage drinking, why are we not requiring ID scanners at convenience stores and liquor stores?”
“That’s a good point, but we’re worried about safety,” Alderwoman Janice Antonow said in response. “We can visit that later.”
The board will vote on the proposed safety ordinance at its next regular meeting on July 31.