August 30, 2006
A Response to “Live on the Lawn” and Ruffin Slater’s Letter
To whom it may concern:
We, residents of Carrboro, and consumer-owners of WSM– are grateful for the letter issued by the general manager of Weaver Street Market explaining the difficult situation WSM finds itself in when dealing with this matter. However, there were several core issues and concerns we feel his letter, and the continued policies on the lawn, have not adequately addressed.
First, while we are not interested in accusing individuals like Nathan Milian of racism, to the best of our knowledge, to this day the only people who have been banned, and asked not to dance are African American. Regardless of the intention of individuals involved, this is defacto discrimination.
Second, beyond racial discrimination, we believe that Carr Mill Mall is treading on dangerous ground when they begin to differentially allow people who look and act a certain way to dance, whereas others, who do not fit within their comfort zones are banned. Along with Ruffin Slater, Weaver Street Market, and Bruce Thomas himself, we agree that this issue is not about Bruce. And that it is about much larger issues. However, we differ on what those “other issues” are. We are fundamentally concerned about the kind of community we have if we allow and tacitly support discrimination. Questions about deciding what is and is not appropriate movement, what classifies as dancing and what doesn’t, as well as who is and who isn’t seen as violating this—raises several concerns in this regard. While we do not want jeopardize Weaver Street Lawn activities—especially the Thursdays and Sundays events we hold dear—we are not willing to support them if it means also supporting discriminatory practices.
Many others have continued to dance and they have not been asked to leave. While at the moment it might seem better to maintain some lawn privileges by hoping that we can redress these particular instances of discrimination on a case by case basis—as WSM has suggested we do for Bruce— we believe the implications of this approach are quite frightening. It implies that property owners who benefit from offering a quasi-public space ought to simultaneously exercise their de jure right to discriminate and choose who is and is not acceptable. Discrimination in such an environment is unacceptable.
Third, we support Carr Mill Mall’s efforts to ensure public safety and a convivial atmosphere for its tenants and customers. In particular, illegal activities like public drunkenness, drug use and shoplifting should not be tolerated. However, it is not appropriate to profile certain people as being more prone to engage in these sorts of activities. This amounts to preemptive actions that, like racial profiling, often result in unwarranted harassment and discrimination. (Considering the current climate in this country and throughout the world in this regard, the presence of this behavior in Carrboro is particularly disturbing).
Fourth, the fact that the WSM lawn happens to be private property does not negate our constitutional rights. These include prohibitions against discrimination and guarantees to freedom of expression. Forty years ago, residents of this community struggled to end discrimination in public accommodations. Regardless of the legal rights of private property owners, morally and ethically as residents of this community we cannot allow Carrboro to go backward. Should Carr Mill Mall persist with the current policy, we will use our power as consumers and as residents to press for change.
Finally, while we understand that private property is something Americans hold very dear, we also recognize that it is the community that ensures the right to private property and that sustains whatever economic value such property might hold. We feel it is no small matter that the banning of these individuals is one among a number of steps Carr Mill has taken to rid the lawn of its role as the functional commons of Carrboro. Thus, we want to pose the question about how far we are willing to allow the rights of single and corporate property owners to override the collective good of the community from which they benefit.
Brian Russell --BrianR 18:42, 30 August 2006 (UTC)