Wednesday, October 01, 2008
Pop culture will not eat itself in Jacksonville, because there seem to be forces at work preventing there to be any culture left for the eating. In this strange and fearful era of business breakdowns and presidential quests, it is hard to pull the aperture back in and stay focused on local. But what we let happen here will only inflate into bigger intrusions and worse situations. That said, we cannot ignore the actions the city takes.
Granted, we all want to see crime reduced, but I am not the only one that sees the misdirection of the DART program causing more harm than healing to this problem. If you are not aware of the DART closings, please read Gwennod Stuart's great article in the last issue of Folio Weekly (if you can still find one laying around, unfortunately they don't publish online) or check out some of these very articulate reports:
These focus largely on the closing of The Pearl and a little about TSI (both clubs are focused on the 18 - 34 set - wildly reminiscent of the "scorched earth" closings by the Fire Marshal back in the 90s) but the agency claims to have closed nearly 20 clubs in the last 90 days.
Now whether or not minor permit violations should have such dire consequences is one question. Another is whether or not there ought to be a less police-oriented agency that can help small business owners jump through all of the required hoops to prevent being raided and closed by police. But there also seem to be personal rights being violated (since when can police raid a business and search everyone in the place, where is their probable cause?) as well as the rights of business owners.
The stated mission according to the city's website is:
"The Jacksonville Drug Abatement Response Team (DART) was established in January 1996 to combat illegal drugs in Jacksonville by focusing on the property where drug activity flourishes. Working with landlords/property owners, the team develops strategies and marshals resources to reduce drug activity."
Well they were not working with the owners of Pearl or TSI when they raided their businesses and shut them down. I know the owners of these clubs and they would have gladly allowed any inspector to enter their premises and inspect it. They would also comply with whatever recommendations the inspectors made. None of the citations were for major incidents (an extension chord and some christmas lights) and no drug arrests were made, as far as anyone seems to be able to tell - so what is the real and present threat?
Even more important - how do these reduce crime and promote business, two things that should be at the front end of every city effort in these hard times. As the economy gets worse, crime will increase. How does discouraging poeple from going downtown help reduce crime downtown? Any business owner in the core will tell you that more good people downtown means less crime. It is simply a matter of more witnesses and less dark, empty streets.
So when Charlie Crist sent down the budget cuts that have and will continue to reduce the quality of life in a city already being soffocated in crime and poverty, we didn't raise enough of a stink to do anything about it. Hell - we're all working really hard to make ends meet, who has time for voluntary political action, I understand that. But this is a Duval-centric problem that needs to be addressed by Duvalites like us.
Who changed the direction of this agency from shutting down and condemning crack houses (good idea) to shutting down and condemning legitimate businesses (bad idea). Add this misguided effort to the new rule that drinking in the usually barren streets of downtown during Art Walk is now officially against the rules, it just seems like someone is either trying to start up a new prohibition or they are simply afraid of Jacksonville growing into a town with any real indigenous culture.
What You Can Do
I don't know what sort of political action makes sense. I don't know who you should write to. We keep voting assholes into the offices they either have failed in or are very likely to proceed to fail in in the near future. So I'm putting the political stick down and picking up my performance art stick.
I suggest that we make some official looking uniforms that have the DART logo on them and raid bars that don't fit the usual hit list criteria and videotape the responses, the reactions, and the effects of the raid. We'll hit Twisted Martini and Mavericks, Mark's, Dive Bar, and then head to San Marco and Riverside. We will raid and evacuate the most upstanding of clubs until every bar owner understands how frustrating it is to work against a China-like police force with arbitrary direction and secret agendas. Perhaps if we harness enough people with money toward this problem, something effective can actually be done.
If someone has a more reasonable solution, please advise, because I'm pretty sure my Ghetto DART Impersonation Posse will eventually be arrested and we'll have no friends left to bail us out.