Anti-Discrimination Ordinance discussed at packed ACC committee meeting

Photo Credit and Meeting Recap Written By Athens for Everyone

The anti-discrimination ordinance recommended by the ACC Government Operations Committee fully addresses Bar Admittance issues but is lacking elsewhere and does not contain the requested Human Relations Commission component.

The Government Operations committee of the ACC commission is usually sparsely attended with no more than one or two community members. That wasn’t the case tonight, when a large number of concerned Athens residents came out to demand the commission do more to fight discrimination. The meeting had to be moved from its normal location (a small room in the basement) and was held in the much larger main chamber.

The Mayor, responding to alleged discrimination primarily from downtown bar-goers, had assigned the county attorney the task of drafting an anti-discrimination ordinance. The ordinance, which had been secret until tonight, addresses two discriminatory tactics: inconsistent dress codes and the use of “private” parties, both of which can be abused to deny entry to those the bars decide arbitrarily to keep out, such as those with a different race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.

Dress Codes

The UGA student government and the UGA NAACP have compiled numerous stories of discrimination downtown, many citing dress codes. According to one bar patron, as reported in the Athens Banner-Herald, “After denial of entry into Jerzees for my black male friend wearing a plain black shirt, we tried to go to 9ds and we were denied entry for the same reason. We pointed out to the bouncer of the white male he just let in with a black shirt. The male bouncer said that the white male was different.”

So, how does the proposed anti-discrimination ordinance put a stop to this kind of blatant discrimination? It requires that bars apply dress codes uniformly to all patrons, and keep these codes consistent from day-to-day. It also requires bar owners post a sign describing the dress code within 10 feet of the entrance, but an oversight left concerns that this sign could be posted inside where it would be invisible to those turned away due to discrimination. Hopefully, this loophole will be fixed in the final version of the ordinance.

“Private” Parties

Another story described how “private” parties in bars can be used as an excuse to discriminate. “We were told by the bouncer that the event was a private party. It seemed strange to us that this was the case as we had friends in the bar already. … We went to two other bars that night that we received similar treatment.” The proposed ordinance would put an end to this kind of abuse by requiring that bars enter into written agreements with those requesting the private space and that these agreements be kept on file and made available for inspection.

Good, but Not Good Enough

Great! Our government will put a stop to this and we can all go home, right? Slow down there — first of all, this ordinance only affects bars (i.e. establishments with a class D, E or F liquor license). It is aimed mainly at bars downtown, doesn’t affect restaurants or any other kind of entity, and the process to file a complaint is very ambiguous. “I feel that this ordinance is catering to the college kids, not to the whole community,” said Mokah Jasmine-Johnson, leader in the Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement. “There is a lot of work left to be done, we need to push for a Human Rights Commission.”

So, what changes are needed for this anti-discrimination ordinance to be effective? First of all, it would provide more immediate help to those suffering from discrimination rather than require them to wade through daunting layers of bureaucracy first. It would cover all of Athens, not just bars. There should be support throughout and the process should be as easy as possible. A Human Relations Commission would have all of these features, and since it would be made up of a diverse group of regular people, would be less intimidating.

Athens for Everyone is glad to see this proposed ordinance address bar admittance discrimination, but a Human Relations Commission and enforceable coverage for rest of the county is needed before it is adopted. Please contact your county commissioner and request for these changes to be made.

This legislation will be discussed at the August 16 Mayor & Commission Agenda Setting meeting and then voted on at the September 6 Mayor & Commission Voting Session. Public comment is allowed and urged at both of these meetings.

Athens for Everyone
July 21, 2016

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