The Old Town Association, an organization that represents most of the businesses in Old Town, is once again supporting city ordinances designed to drive minorities, primarily young black men, out of the Old Town district.
The Wichita City Council is proposing that Old Town be labeled an entertainment district, a move that would give way to new ordinances stiffening penalties for certain crimes committed within that district, including petty offenses such as loitering and public intoxication, offenses that should be expected in a bar district.
Like most of the laws in Old Town that govern the behavior of the patrons, it is expected that these new ordinances, if passed, would be primarily enforced outside the few bars that still cater to a primarily minority crowd. Doc Howards and Club Liquid, two bars that did play hip-hop music, and that did have large minority patronages, have both closed after years of police harassment, the latter being replaced with a bar that could be seen as targeting a less diverse clientele.
These new laws, if passed, would allow for a $500 fine for first time offenders, with second time offenders facing up to $1,000 in fines and six months in jail, along with actually being banned from the district, altogether. On the surface, these laws appear to be a simple way to ensure greater public safety in the district, but anyone paying attention in Old Town can tell you that there are two sets of standards in Old Town: the standards for the white people frequenting clubs, and the standards for everyone else in the district.
White people, on the other hand, can actually get into full-on fist fights in front of police officers without repercussion, as I and other activists witnessed outside the Pumphouse (a bar in the district) while investigating Old Town policing activities last year.
Anyone familiar with police activity in district knows it will be the black men who are targeted by these new laws, and the arrest statistics will prove it.
While most of the business owners Old Town simply want less crime in the district, the owners of the Courtyard Marriott and the Hotel at Old Town are using their ties to City Council member Janet Miller to drive the minorities out of the district, because, as Hotel at Old Town owners put it, “our guests are frightened by groups of intoxicated, young black men walking by the hotel”.