Opinion: Proposed “downtown” ordinance presents biased agenda

Posted on Jun 28 2018 - 7:57am by Terrence Johnson

From my personal experiences living here for the past four years, Oxford is one of the safest towns in the state. There have been very few instances where I did not feel say safe at my apartment, at school or work or out and about with friends on the Square. That’s not to say it isn’t exciting – Oxford is also a place of robust entertainment. However, with all of the lively experiences and opportunities that exist within our community, there are some negative ones as well.

On April 27, a group of university students rented The Lyric to host a party during Double Decker weekend. According to The Lyric, the group had rented the space twice before with no incident. However, during this event, an individual snuck into the back door, engaged in an altercation with a guest, pulled out a gun and shot into the ceiling.

The Oxford Board of Aldermen rolled out an ordinance for a “Downtown District” for safety precautions. The aldermen ensured that the ordinance was not a direct response to the shooting at the Lyric. However, I believe that it was enough cause for the board to create a space that could be controlled in hopes that the issue would be “rectified.” The initial ordinance required venues to submit applications for events to help with crowding and security. However, with The Lyric being one of the only spaces that books entertainment for performances and specific events, it was very apparent to me that the ordinance is biased for multiple reasons.

Primarily, the application for approval by OPD will relatively only affect The Lyric, being that other businesses are open mostly every night without a special performance or event. The Lyric is also one of the only spaces in Oxford that allows black and brown people to gather and express themselves freely through events like the Latin American Student Organization’s “Latin Party” or neophyte presentations. At many events hosted by the National Panhellenic Council, I have witnessed OPD behave extremely aggressively with students and locals alike in an effort to “maintain order” and manage “crowd control.” I haven’t witnessed it at the Library or Levee; however, whenever I leave The Lyric from an NPHC event or a concert by a black artist, I walk out of the doors to be welcomed by several rude and aggressive police officers.

Hence, there was a vastly negative response from many people and businesses alike due to the Board of Aldermen and their hidden, biased agenda. On June 19, the Board of Aldermen met again to discuss the ordinance and go through the changes. They revised much of the language that required an application for an event. Initially, OPD Chief East and those that reviewed applications would have the power to veto events if they felt the events “could” create harm. Mayor Tannehill reiterated that the application is to ensure that there is a proper plan in place, not to deny an event or performer from coming to the venue. Mayor Tannehill also added that the ordinance was a working document and would not be voted on immediately.

One part of the document discusses requiring a sufficient patron-to-security ratio to ensure that there is enough help in the event of an emergency. Initially, that event could be anything from a baby shower to a huge party, which did not make sense at all. The chief of police and Mayor Tannehill stated that there are plans to add a section for events that do not require many security guards due to their nature.

It seems that for many of the businesses, the ordinance is all about cost. The document will require all businesses have a sufficient number of cameras for certain areas of the establishment with specific requirements. The ordinance would also require Electronic Age Verification Devices to “deter underage drinking and the improper entry of underage individuals.” The security cameras are valid. There are altercations, abductions and sexual assaults that happen within bars and clubs. Obviously, the cameras could assist law enforcement when need be. However, with the ID scanners, underage individuals can purchase false IDs that still scan. It seems that proper training to identify underage patrons would be more of an asset combined with the scanners. This will create a higher cost influx that could be offset by allowing businesses to stay open later.

I feel that the purpose of the ordinance is an effort to protect, and initially also an effort to regulate and infringe. Nevertheless, the Board of Aldermen and the business owners seem to be making intentional efforts for the what is best for the city, the businesses, and the patrons. However, the ordinance and its methods of changes and additions need to be transparent to the public along with valid reasoning for its mandates.