Sunday, August 16, 2009

Elephant in the Alcohol Licensing Committee

I can't say I am terribly surprised that the Chuns were denied a beer license for their would be convenient store. The city's effort to transform Sixth St into an artist haven has failed miserably. A few art shops have moved from 6th to Main Street and those that remain on 6th appear to be on life support. Meanwhile, 6th has been slowly becoming a night life destination, especially with the opening of Park 6. And with that has come problems.

So it was not surprising that the only significant opposition to the beer license came from a handful of merchants and shopkeepers. No doubt they have been affected by misbehaving bar patrons and they have had enough.

But I believe that there is more to their opposition than this. I strongly suspect that the perception, if not the reality, is that Park 6 customers are primarily responsible for an increase in obnoxious behavior. And for those of you that are not familiar with Park 6, it is a dance club that, on weekend nights at least, is packed with black people.

Now just to be very clear, I am NOT suggesting that opponents of the Chuns are racists. What I am suggesting is that there may well exist a correlation between black people/alcohol/dance music and misbehavior that is significantly higher than, say, a correlation between octogenarians/tea/bingo and misbehavior. So the merchants are trying to prevent badly behaving people from coming in to the neighborhood. It just so happens that they worried that the future customers of the Chuns would be of the troublemaking variety, like they see in Park 6 customers.

I have been to numerous alcohol licensing meetings and it is quite amusing to watch. Would be applicants must talk in code. They say things like "Ours will be a high end establishment. We won't become a hip hop club" or "We won't sell 40 ounce cans of Malt Liquor." I wish one of them would come out and tell the committee exactly what the committee seemingly wants to hear, something like "You can be damned sure that I will actively discourage young black people from entering my establishment."

The problem I have with the alcohol licensing process is that, in an attempt to preempt problems, the city in effect quietly discriminates against a whole goup of people, in this case young black people. And while there is arguably a strong correlation between dance clubs and misbehavior, it is entirely unfair to the majority of black people who go to clubs and who behave themselves.

Rather than discriminate against young black people who like to drink beer or listen to rap music, the city should instead focus on the smaller group of people, whatever their color, that misbehave. Let people drink beer and listen to music. And let us also lower our tolerance for bad behavior.


Anonymous said...

Rather than discriminate against ... people who like to ... or ..., the city should instead focus on the smaller group of people, ..., that misbehave. Let people ... and .... And let us also lower our tolerance for bad behavior.

It seems this line of thought can be applied to many, many, ordinances, laws, restrictions, licenses, etc.

Denis Navratil said...

Perhaps so anon. Thanks for your comment.

David Maack said...

I am suprised you take some of the positions you do. During my six year year tenure on Public Safety and Licensing, I have seen good bars and I have seen bad bars. While you would like to see no restrictions on the granting of licenses, that would be irresponsible. A handful of bars, including two in the downtown area, suuck up police manpower on the weekends during bar closing time. Should the entire shift have to babysit a few hotspots every weekend because of large, disorderly crowds. We have seenn bars with underage violations, fights, stabbings and shootings. One bar that attepted to bring in the hip hop crowd had 21 underage violations in one night and several weapons were recovered. Not only are police resources strapped but a due process hearing to revoke a license can run in excess of $14000. Forgive us for being cautious. There are good bar operators who can run successful hip hop clubs but it usually involves having ssecurity, cameras, dress codes etc. We try to mitigate problems on the front end to save the taxpayers on the backend. Are we successful everytime? No. But no one can accuse us of doing our due diligence.

Denis Navratil said...

David Maack, thank you for your comments. When you say that I want no restrictions on the granting of liquor licenses, you are mistaken. Rather, I think there should be an objective basis for granting or denying licenses. An example, over 21, legal resident of US, with no felony convictions. The process would be fair certainly and would not result in the racial discrimination that is plainly evident at the city council. I am of course referring to the oft repeated pattern of license applicants saying that they won't play hip hop music etc... Now why would they feel the need to say such a thing? Hip hop music is not illegal, so why is music choice even part of the discussion? Because license applicant are not stupid and they know very well what you want to hear. As I said in my original post, I believe that there is a correlation between people who listen to certain types of music and unlawful behavior. That is a macro observation and of course does not neccessarily apply to an individual black guy who wants to listen to rap music, have a beer and dance a bit. So your approach to this problem is to try to head off these problems by denying licenses. In doing so, you discriminate against decent law abiding entrepreneurs and law abiding future customers. In addition to the unfair discrimination, I seriously doubt that you really prevent any problems, unless you believe that the same folks likely to cause a ruckus at some proposed establishment will otherwise stay home and read a book. Of course they won't do that, they will simply find another place to cause problems. You are a legislator alderamn Maack, not a judge or a law enforcement official. Your job is to pass laws that are fair to everyone. You have failed in that regard. Leave law enforcement problems to law enforcement and leave your judgements about the likelyhood of future crimes etc... to the judge who detirmines guilt or innocence. We have three branches of government for a reason. A better approach to the very real problems here in Racine would be to crack down on the criminals and misbehaving drunkards. Enlist bar owners as your allies in this effort. Presently city policy discourages bar owners from calling the police because bar owners will be called to the carpet for misbehaving customers. So they try to handle all problems in house rather than partnering with law enforcement. Also, crack down hard on bar owners who themselves break the law by serving minors, exceeding capacity, serving after hours etc... Yes there would be an initial serious expense but if the city made it clear that they will be taking away licenses from lawbreakers, you can be sure that bar owners inclined to skirt the laws will think twice if their livelihood is at stake. Thanks again for your comments Alderamn Maack. You have a difficult job. I hope in the future you will consider performing your legislative duties without disciminating against innocent people.

still for Obama! said...

Sounds like a stance for LiberTEA to defend and take the lead on.

At least Denis has spoken the truth, so now we shall see what, if any, actions will stem from this.....

Denis Navratil said...

Thank you Still for Obama. LiberTEA Racine did take on the issue (of the Chuns getting a license) and we lost. We will be taking on more issues as they come up. One of the basic premises of our group is that numbers and pressure frequently trump coherent arguments. For that reason we need more people to join us if they agree with our issue, so that we have both numbers and the best argument. Though supporters of the Chuns vastly outnumbered the opposition, it still wasn't enough. And from the looks of things, city council members will be paying no price for their unfair treatment of the Chuns and their would-be customers. That has to change. We are an issue by issue organization. Maybe we won't always agree, but when we do, feel free to join us.

concrete katie said...

The alderman represent the residents of Racine. So how come, Mr. Maack, the signatures of residents were so blithely ignored by the Licensing Committee? A handful of folks, most of them with liquor licenses, were able to stop a business from opening. There is no real chamber of commerce for the downtown. The woman from McMynn who collected 62 signatures? Did anyone look at it? Did anyone look at signatures that Kim (asiana) and I collected and handed to the committee at an earlier date?
No grocery store. No laundry mat.

Keith Fair said...

I believe vthat this was and is a problem that needs resolve. We cannot continue to move this elephant around the room without doing anything about it. The first thing that would happen if a lawsuit was filed is the city would attempt to kill the messenger. Lets find the solution to the problem before it gets to this very costly venture!!!

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