May 16, 2006

Long ride to freedom

The language being foisted on the debate over Derby cruising has shown a profound range, from righteous indignation to benign denial. Words like “apartheid” have entered the discourse not sideways but head-on, as in accusations thereof, as city and police officials continue to call the lock-down on West Broadway a “success” in unmitigated terms. It’s essentially a default dismissal, some argue, until next year’s Thunder Over Louisville, when the debate will again begin and end over the course of about a month. Several social-justice organizations, as well as West End residents, are trying to keep the discussion loud and public. Last Friday, representatives of the Kentucky Alliance Against Racial and Political Repression, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Justice Resource Center, and others gathered for a press conference at the Braden Memorial Center to discuss alternatives to the massive police presence that rendered businesses impotent this year. “This year we seemed to have a complete failure of communication between the people who live west of Ninth Street and City Hall,” said K.A. Owens, vice chair of the Kentucky Alliance. The crux of the discussion was on the West End’s “false choice,” as one speaker — Phillip Bailey — put it, between full-bore cruising and police lockdown. The “menace” of cruising has been labeled a behavioral problem and not a structural one, Bailey said, and as such, the only way to deal with it is by increasing police presence. To Owens and others, it’s also an issue of image. “There’s also a feeling that folks have that large groups of black people getting together doesn’t fit into the plans” of Derby, he said. He cited local media coverage of the glitz and glam of Derby, with a heavy focus on celebrities. The groups hope to meet with city officials to devise a mutually beneficial and inclusive strategy for next year that doesn’t ignore the West End on Derby weekend.