Talk of the Town - The perennial question September 16 2000

Racial undertones cloud issues in Buckhead brouhaha

Surprise. Shock. Indignation. Once again, racial acrimony has raised its ugly head in Buckhead, with ramifications swirling to all sectors of the city. In all honesty, one could read the tea leaves and predict the collision. A growing black party scene in a predominantly white neighborhood? The ingredients are combustible.

Oh, don't be fooled by a measure to curb drinking hours as a way to slow down the party. As long as young African-Americans play booming music while cruising the streets of Buckhead, closing the bars at 8 p.m. would make no difference. Once again, I have to reiterate: It's all about race.

Last week, in a vote along straight racial lines, the Atlanta City Council voted against earlier closing times for bars. In the discussion prior to the vote, some long-hidden underlying feelings surfaced. Many blacks in Atlanta feel unwelcome in the city's major entertainment district. More to the point, many whites feel the weekend "urban" Nubians need to stay out of "their" 'hood.

In other words, we have a racial divide on our hands.

All the politeness couched in diplomatic speak can't hide the obvious. One need only listen to WSB Radio resident right-winger Neal Boortz to know the true sentiments of many whites. They feel uncomfortable in the vicinity of large numbers of blacks. But, while "mighty whitey" Boortz says it openly, Buckhead civic and political leaders couch similar feelings in coded language.

Beyond the question of stopping the party, however, lies another reality of our times. Black youth like to party in their cars and tend to do it late at night. Freaknik gave cruising a bad name, and it ultimately died — a good thing that got way out of hand.

Perhaps we now have a "mini-Freaknik" in Buckhead, and, likewise we need to find a way to bring it under control. But it seems obvious that the key question is still one of race.

The most blatant side effect to shutting down Buckhead to unwelcome partygoers has been the proposals to close bars citywide on Sundays, and two hours earlier during the week. The irony of this must be especially poignant for openly gay Councilwoman Cathy Woolard. Her district is dotted with gay and lesbian bars whose clientele are late-nighters, and who enjoy a cocktail on Sunday. Woolard attempted to amend the legislation to allow some bars to stay open later, but when it was defeated she backed the closing of the bars, although she now wants to clarify the Sunday drinking laws.

Buckhead is a name that has long evoked wealth, shopping and entertainment. It still does. Yes, there have been eight murders in greater Buckhead since the first of the year, but only two right in the "Village" proper. As Mayor Bill Campbell correctly pointed out, the crime-rate under former Mayor Sam Massell, now the mouthpiece of Buckhead, was twice as high as today. Let's not quibble with numbers, but I can tell you Buckhead is not dying. If one bar went out of business tomorrow morning, another would gladly take its place by sundown. The condos and office towers are still being built, and I see no signs of an exodus to the 'burbs.

Cooler heads should prevail over the naysayers and fear-mongers. Reasonable solutions can and must be found. Making Buckhead a police state is not the answer. Placing a wall between blacks and whites definitely is not the answer. Early bar closings won't happen, and trying to deny Buckhead's status as a party district is foolhardy.

Still, there is the big question. Until we deal with it head on, very little movement can take place to make Buckhead a safer place. It's all about race.

Houckline: Call, 404-614-1886; e-mail: thouck@mindspring.com.

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