Wise public health move -- or racial discrimination?

COLUMBIA, Mo 6/12/14 (Beat Byte) --  First Ward Columbia City Councilwoman Ginny Chadwick and Tyree Byndom, her former rival for the Council seat, may be squaring off again over an issue Chadwick's predecessor unsuccessfully tackled:  banning alcohol in Douglass Park.

"I am working to make Douglass alcohol free," Byndom says Chadwick told him. 

"Get ready for a fight," Byndom responded, citing five previous attempts to ban alcohol at the park that failed for widespread public opposition.   "I want you to know that you will have major opposition from me and my allies." 

"I didn't take the job because I wasn't up for fights," Chadwick said.   "Change is a struggle, especially towards public health issues." 

The Councilwoman renewed the ban proposal toward the end of the June 2 Council meeting.  

During a baseball game at Douglass, "one thing I did see that continues to be an issue is alcohol," Chadwick explained, starting at 4:36 in this video.  "I would like to look into an ordinance to make that park alcohol free."    

The city allows alcohol consumption -- but not sales -- in all but three small parks:  Paquin Park, Flat Branch Park, and Village Square Park.   Alcohol may only be consumed in those parks with a permit.  

The topic of a Douglass Park alcohol ban came up at the Douglass Park Neighborhood Association annual meeting this week.  Past attempts to ban alcohol in the park have been labeled "discriminatory" and even "racist," attendees, including Byndom, explained.  

"Blacks in the 1st Ward have one social space that they go, and that is Douglass Park," Byndom -- who is black and does not drink -- says he told Chadwick.  "It's important to allow people a space to socialize without being judged and targeted.  They are targeted enough already."  

Council members last discussed an ordinance banning alcohol at Douglass Park in February 2013, when then-First Ward Councilman Fred Schmidt "made it clear that he was singling out Douglass and was not interested in prohibiting alcohol consumption in other city parks," Keep Columbia Free reported.  "Many in Columbia’s central city Black community have rightfully labeled this move as 'racist'." 

On questioning from Councilwoman Chadwick at the June 2 Council meeting, city parks director Mike Griggs recalled "having twenty or so meetings with the community" about Mr. Schmidt's proposed ban.   "It was hard just to pick that one park," Griggs said.   "Why pick Douglass and not all the other parks?" 

"The use of alcohol in that park is not like it is in other parks," Chadwick said.   "Do we have the drinking issue in any other park like we do in Douglass Park?   It's a perpetual thing that people are drinking in that park."   

Asked to name ban supporters, "police chief Burton and the police," the Councilwoman said.   But if responses to Byndom's question on Facebook seeking public input are any guide, opposition to a Douglass Park alcohol ban remains strong. 

"Why just Douglass?   Another way to pick at the black community," Jamaica Kelly said. 

"Let's be clear and honest.  The reason for the direct removal of alcohol in Douglass park is a race issue," added Vonna Jackson.

"There are way bigger issues that should be handled first!" said Patricia Burgess-Hughes.   "Ginny, this is petty and a total waste of time." 

Supporters urged the ban should be park -- or even city-wide

"I have no problem with an alcohol ban, if it is in all city parks," said Zachary Stickann

"We should also ban alcohol downtown, at the tailgates, and in the stadium on game days," said Vic Day.   "I think we should ban alcohol at the location of Roots and Blues." 

"It seems bizarre to me to ban drinking in one park, but not others," Rachel Brekhus concluded. 

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