July 9, 2010

A closer look at the NAACP report on Racine's Downtown

We're three days into the release of a leaked NAACP report on the "State of Racine's Downtown." Based on comments here and at the JT, it's been a disaster. But that's all surface response to a report that has a lot more to offer. Here's a closer look at what the report was saying and what it could mean for the city:

1. It was a first draft. Based on interviews with people close to the report, the report "leaked" online this week to Insider News and RacinePost was an extremely early draft of a report that will eventually include data and further research. How early was the draft? It was released weeks, if not months, early.

2. The NAACP's Executive Committee is scheduled to meet Tuesday on the report. It's likely at that meeting they'll reveal it was an early draft and commission a deeper look at the allegations and concerns. The committee likely will "clean up" the report before releasing a final document.

3. Where's this all headed? The local NAACP may call for a federal investigation into the treatment of African-American-owned bars in Racine. That could be a real problem for the city.

4. City officials aren't taking the report seriously because it wasn't "sanctioned" by the NAACP, according to a source who received a call from a city official. That's somewhat good news, because the report, as it stands, is not in shape to be taken seriously.

5.  Ken Lumpkin, owner of Insider News, confirmed Friday a key underlying issue in the report is the treatment of African-American-owned bars in the city. A former bar owner himself, Lumpkin said politicians attack bars as a way to look like they're improving neighborhoods.

"Historically, white alderman in African-American districts have used closing down African-American bars to show their commitment to improving the African-American community," said Lumpkin, who sits on the County Board.

6. There's a noticeable decline in the numbers of black-owned bars in Racine over the last 30 years, Lumpkin said. He estimated the numbers have fallen from about 32 bars two decades ago to about 10 bars today. Of those that remain, some have been required by the city to implement expensive security measures that hurt business. One Racine bar owner estimates they've lost $180,000 following requirements placed on their bar by the city, Lumpkin said.

7. Park 6, which may lose its liquor license, is a flash point, Lumpkin said, because it's one of the first African-American-owned bars to open in Downtown Racine. Historically, blacks in Racine have entertained themselves at Inner City bars, Lumpkin said. Park 6, and then The Place on 6th, changed that.

8. Lumpkin said there's a general feeling among African-Americans that they're not welcome in Downtown Racine. True or not, he added, there's a sense that minority-owned bars in general are treated differently than white-owned bars. Lumpkin said he hopes the NAACP crunches data on city bars to investigate this.

9. The best way to solve problems with crowds on Sixth Street, or in any popular entertainment district, is to have police walking beats on busy nights, Lumpkin said. "It's what they do in New Orleans, Memphis, Milwaukee or any area with that many people mixing with alcohol."

11. The leaked draft of the report is fueled by concern among African-American-owned bars, restaurants and businesses, Lumpkin said. "They're afraid of what the city is going to do," he said.

12. Lumpkin said the report marked an important moment for African-Americans in the city. "This could be, and should be, a turning point in forming a direction," Lumpkin said. "African-Americans being left out of  Downtown is probably the greatest issue before the African-American community."

13. Strategically, the leaked memo was either a mistake or a brilliant, according to insiders. One said the memo was leaked way too early and left the NAACP in a difficult position. But another said the memo works because it's designed to fire up African-Americans and create an "us vs. them" mentality. 

14. Regardless, the NAACP has handled the report poorly. It could easily have distanced itself from the document, but instead held off comment and now is firmly tied to the report. One person compared it to Alderman Mike Shields community forum at City Hall. It was a great idea, but the execution was off and it didn't have much of an effect on the community. Now, the organization needs to call the report out for what it was - a very early draft - and get to work finishing up a document with some actual insights into the city. If that happens, it could be the start of change.

See Craig Oliver's interview about the leaked report at the Insider News.