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Council acts on adult entertainment

Geoffrey Ritter
Carbondale Times

CARBONDALE — The City Council on Tuesday approved a change to city code largely brought on by the opening of an adult cabaret venue near the middle of the city, but more debate on the issue will be coming soon.

By a unanimous vote, the council approved an addition to rules governing the city’s liquor license holders that more specifically details what kind of entertainment is allowed at their venues.

However, concerns that that the modification — developed largely in response to the opening of the Pony Cabaret and Steakhouse on East Main Street earlier this month — could unfairly stifle sexualized entertainment at other bars and establishments means the issue will surface again next month.

Tuesday’s action represents not so much an alteration of city code as it does a clarification of rules already governing holders of city liquor licenses. Previously, liquor licensees simply were restricted from allowing employees or patrons “to engage in any topless or bottomless act, demonstration, dance, or exhibition.”

Tuesday’s action changes that mandate slightly by adding references to definitions on “adult use” found in another part of city code dealing with businesses. Those “adult use” provisions include defining an adult cabaret as an establishment featuring topless entertainers or activities of an explicitly sexual nature. Numerous other graphic descriptions are included as well. They also lay out specific guidelines for what constitutes indecent exposure of body parts, as well as specific sexual activities.

The addition of the “adult use” definitions to the rules governing liquor licensees was aimed at creating greater consistency between two separate chapters of city code, according to the agenda item.

Councilwoman Jane Adams raised concerns that the adult use clauses regarding dancing “designed primarily to appeal to the sexual interest of the patron” could have a chilling effect on other bars and establishments in the city.

She suggested that the adult use definition be modified to reflect this potential issue.

“That’s what most dancing by young people does in dancing arenas,” Adams said. Nina Hurmis, a member of the local V2T2 Cabaret group, expressed similar concerns. She said that while her group often does routines that are sexual in nature, they are intended as satire.

“We do not want something that we’ve been doing for many years to go down because of this,” Hurmis said.

As a result of such concerns, the council approved adding the adult use definition to the law regulating liquor licensees, but agreed to return next month to consider striking two clauses from the definition of adult uses — namely in regard to dancing of a sexual nature and performances that simulate “specified sexual activities.”

The City Council is scheduled to next meet Nov. 18.

Citizens focus on action in Ferguson aftermath

Sean McGahan
Carbondale Times

CARBONDALE — An array of emotions boiled over Monday as the Carbondale community took part in a national conversation that, for many, hits too close to home.

The shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown at the hands of Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson Aug. 9 sent ripple effects throughout the nation with a wide-reaching story that for many shed a renewed light on topics from racial profiling to police militarization.

In an attempt to dissect some of these issues and express the perspectives of those affected in Carbondale, representatives from throughout the city and university collaborated to bring “Race, Policing, and Justice: Lessons from Ferguson.”

The climate of the Civic Center hall ranged from that of a polite classroom to a boxing-match weigh-in during the four-hour-plus symposium, with impassioned citizens shouting at each other for short spells. 

During one fierce exchange between audience members, SIU Radio, Television and Digital Media Department chairman Novotny Lawrence attempted to ease some of the tension.

“At this point, if we start yelling and bickering at each other, it’s not about Michael Brown anymore. Everyone has something to contribute,” he said.

Lawrence said he is angry every day when he hears of injustice, especially that of youth being killed. But the key to progress, he said, is to do something productive with that anger.

With that in mind, the overarching goal of the discussion was focused on action steps and what can be done in the community to prevent future injustices. 

For a majority of the citizens who chose to voice their opinions at the panel, frustrations centered on the Carbondale Police Department. Several audience members cited perceived past injustices at the hands of Carbondale officers as evidence of a culture of racial profiling and excessive force in the department.

Ginger Rye, a Carbondale resident on and off since the 1960s, shared a story of an interaction with police three years ago. While she was filing a report, she said police took her three grandchildren, all under the age of 10, and interrogated them without her knowledge. 

Rye expressed frustration at her unsuccessful attempts to get an answer as to why this was done.

“I’m wondering why there is nothing in place to just have a public relation conversation when something like this comes up,” she said. “It seems like black lives in this town are devalued.”

Several other citizens reported being harassed by police. One reason law enforcement can have the upper hand in these types of situations is because many people have not been educated on the law and their own civil rights, said Orlan Mays.

Mays, who runs the not-for-profit A Gift of Love Charity Inc., said a public, free class educating citizens on their basic rights would be a welcome resource and a large step in the right direction for police-community tensions.

“It would be beautiful if the law enforcement could provide this class, because that would show transparency, truly,” Mays said.

Deputy Police Chief Stan Reno fielded many of the questions and frustrations directed at local law enforcement. He said he would take the concerns expressed back to his colleagues at the department.

When citizens asked about their interactions with police, Reno said he could not speak about instances of which he did not have specific knowledge. He said the department has strict policies against racial profiling and encouraged people to make formal complaints, in which case the department will make sure they are investigated.

“We don’t want what happened in Ferguson to happen here in Carbondale, and we won’t tolerate it to happen either,” Reno said.

The Racial Justice Coalition of Carbondale has been trying to fight racial profiling by police, said Cathy Field. She said interim Police Chief Jeff Grubbs has told the group the department currently is unable to determine the number of arrests based on race, but is in the process of installing software that will allow them to release such figures early in 2015.

Field said it has been statistically clear for some time that those who go through life with darker skin are significantly more likely to spend time in prison. She said things would start to change if more white people got arrested.

Field also noted that the city is approaching a potentially transformative time, with an acting mayor who has said he will not run for the next term and an interim police chief who may be replaced.

“With all this new talent, we can demand … that we have a new policy: Don’t arrest so many black people,” she said.

Carbondale citizens also got to hear from those who saw the aftermath of the Brown shooting firsthand. Patricia Bynes said she arrived at the Canfield Green Apartment Complex Aug. 9 just in time to see officials towing away Officer Wilson’s SUV while Brown’s body had been lying in the street for four hours.

Bynes, Democratic committeewoman for Ferguson Township, said she has known racial profiling to be an everyday practice in her community and throughout the region. The process serves as a revenue generator for the cities and townships, she said, because of the tickets and ensuing fees associated with routinely arresting black people from a lower economic status.

Now that the spotlight is on Ferguson, she said communities in the St. Louis area and beyond can fight to put an end to the practice.

“I’m a firm believer that our police officers deserve to be more than revenue generators,” Bynes said.