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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

What law is the City of Vicksburg enforcing here?

What comes to mind when you think about criminal activity?  Robbery?  Rape?  Selling drugs?  Murder?  Jaywalking?  Standing on a city sidewalk in front of a business that you own?  Wait...what?  Yes, apparently standing on a public sidewalk in front of your own business is an offense that can get you arrested.  At approximately 1:00 am Saturday morning, July 26, 2014, Pat Belden, the owner of The Upper End and the soon-to-be-open Rivertown Grille in Vicksburg Mississippi, was locking the door to his restaurant downstairs after allowing someone to go inside to use the restroom when he and one of his employees were told to get off the sidewalk by a Vicksburg City police officer.  When Pat told the officer that he owned the business he was told, "I don't care who you are, get off the sidewalk or get arrested".  Pat then told the officer, "Well, you're just going to have to arrest me then".  He was arrested and charged with Disorderly Conduct and Failure To Comply.  He wasn't drinking, there were no disturbances, no brawls, no nothing going on.  Just "get off the sidewalk because I said so".

We have been trying to figure out what law, exactly, was being enforced.  In the Vicksburg Municipal Code, which can be viewed here https://www.municode.com/library/ms/vicksburg, there is this:

Sec. 17-8. Obstruction of public places—Drawing crowds.
It shall be unlawful for any person to employ any device, noise or performance tending to the collection of persons on the streets, or other public places to the obstruction of the same.

Sec. 17-9. Same—Loitering, loafing.
It shall be unlawful for any persons to loiter, loaf or gather, or assemble upon any sidewalk or street of the city in such numbers or in such manner as to impede the free use of such street or sidewalk, or to interfere with persons passing along the same.

So far, we can't find one that describes what was going on when Pat was arrested.  He wasn't impeding anyone's free use of the sidewalk nor was he interfering with anyone.  Maybe the officer should have been arrested for impeding his free use of the sidewalk.

Later, around 8:00 or 9:00 pm Saturday night, the police were back in front of the two bars on the 1300 block of Washington St., The Upper End and 1311.  They were enforcing the "no standing" rule again.  I observed three men sitting and talking on parked motorcycles in a parking space being told that they couldn't be there and had to move.  Wouldn't that be similar to being told that you couldn't sit in your parked car in a parking space and have a conversation?  Maybe there is a law against that, I don't know, I haven't found it yet.  Another time, I saw a couple stop on the sidewalk watching the activity (that many police officers in one place is sort of an attention-getter), they were immediately approached by an officer and asked, "Are you waiting for something?"  The man answered, "No, we're just looking."  The officer then told them that they had to go inside one of the bars, they couldn't be on the street.

At times there were multiple officers and at one point even the Chief of Police was there monitoring the activities.


12:27 am 7/27/2014
See the benches in the upper right-hand of the photo?  Yeah, they're just for looks.

If this had been one officer's misunderstanding of what their orders were it would be almost understandable but, with multiple officers all enforcing the same inexplicable order and the chief observing them, that's not a viable explanation.  The only reasonable explanation is that they were told to do this and were carrying out orders as stated.  One source told me that they had been told to "take the streets back" and, with some of the activity that goes on in this city, that's completely valid.  To start out by arresting a law-abiding business owner in front of his business is not.

The scene of the crime.  The front of Mr. Belden's currently-being-renovated Rivertown Grille where Mr. Belden was arrested for being on the sidewalk.

I won't sugar-coat this, the bars downtown have had their share of incidents with some disorderly crowds and some fights, it is getting better though.  Since the first of the year, both bars have updated their security and made some policy changes to try to get a better handle on crowd control and reduce these incidents, and it is working.  There are still some nights when things get out of hand but every bar everywhere has that.

The streets of downtown Vicksburg are beautiful.  They are paved with bricks and have been landscaped with trees and shrubs and even have inviting benches scattered along Washington Street.  Unfortunately, it seems that the benches are strictly ornamental and not to be used because, hey, that's an offense which can result in being arrested.  Downtown Vicksburg also has a large population of homeless and vagrant types, some are just colorful characters, some of them will chase people from their vehicles to their destinations begging for money and/or other desired items and some are just plain scary.  This is not representative of the normal bar patrons nor is it representative of business owners.  Why aren't they using more discretion when carrying out orders to "take back the streets"?  Are they enforcing this same no stopping/standing law in front of other businesses or is it just the two bars on the 1300 block?  What about the bars and restaurants that have no-smoking policies, will their patrons be told to 'move along or get back inside' when they step outside for a cigarette?  Will the police be out en force to make sure the tourists are kept in constant motion on their downtown treks during the daylight hours?  Will they arrest them for stopping to ogle the historical architecture or stopping to take pictures of their grandmothers posing in front of the scenery?  The one thing that is great about our laws is that they are supposed to be equal and fair for everyone...everyone.  This seems to be a case of "some people are more equal than others".

7/29/2014 5:49 pm
Enjoying one of the deceptively inviting benches along Washington St. about 50 ft. south of where Mr. Belden was arrested.

A little discretion would have gone a long way in this situation. These bars and restaurants contribute to this city.  They are trying to operate in a part of Vicksburg that has had some problems and hasn't exactly been thriving, even the casino business is down.  There are a lot of empty buildings in this area of town.  These businesses generate revenue and pay taxes, why make it more difficult on them by disrupting business and scaring customers away?  I have a lot of very good friends on the force and we welcome the police presence.  My boss, Pat Belden, has even requested it.  It's nice to have law enforcement in close proximity when you need them, but for them to come down there in a show of force, chasing people off the sidewalk willy-nilly is a little too aggressive in my opinion.

I feel that a big part of the problem is the mixing of nighttime businesses like bars and restaurants with people moving downtown to live in the, for the most part, recently added upscale apartments.  The people who want to live downtown should do a little research and consider the businesses in the area.  To me, that's like moving next door to an airport and then bitching about the noise from the planes.  I used to live in the downtown part of Vicksburg and wish that I still did.  I enjoyed the unique characters and the beautiful old buildings and, yes, I enjoyed going out and walking around the downtown streets at night..  My suggestion to the people who are considering living down there would be this:  Be sure you want to live in an area populated by unusual people where the streets can get noisy and there is traffic twenty-four hours a day.  If you want the Ozzie and Harriet lifestyle move to the suburbs or the country, not downtown.  For crying out loud!  It's not that complicated!  Research the area you are moving into!  Don't move there and then try to rearrange it to suit your wishes.  Eddie the Wino is "grandfathered in", you know.  He ain't going anywhere!

If they really want to clean up the downtown streets, why not enforce a law that is definitely on the books and is not vague at all.

Sec. 17-36. Begging.
No person over sixteen (16) years of age and not blind shall go about from place to place begging and asking subsistence by charity.

And just for shits and giggles, they could travel a little further south on Washington Street and stir up something with this one.

Sec. 17-42. Fortunetelling.
It shall be unlawful for any person, his agents, or officers, to engage in the business of phrenology, mindreading, palmistry, fortunetelling, or attempting to foretell the future by mindreading or any occult science, within the city.

This blog may upset some of my law enforcement friends but that is not my goal.  My goal is to point out some, in my opinion, mistakes made by the city officials who are calling the shots and, quite possibly, unfair agendas which are driven by money and connections.  The officers, after all, are only doing their job and doing what they're told.  It's the people who are doing the telling and their motives and agendas that I am questioning here.  When the law is being used as a tool operating for the benefit of the wealthy and influential it becomes a weapon, and that's not what it is supposed to be, that's corruption.

Something interesting comes to mind while thinking about all this.  Once, years ago, young people congregated in parking lots and socialized and listened to loud music.  You could see them, parents could drive through and check on them, law enforcement could monitor what was going on, but they were deemed a nuisance and the authorities eventually chased them away.  Now, no one knows where the hell they go or what they are up to.  If you keep chasing people deeper into the cover, it's going to be harder and harder to keep up with them.  Maybe the philosophies that our City Elders are operating under are sort of "out of sight, out of mind", like with the homeless beggars.

For more about the downtown bar life read

The Upper End Bar, The Vicksburg Post and the truth

Twitchy and his two-headed anaconda

Epitaph for Doc Schlosser

The Upper End's Facebook page

For even more unrelated nonsense read

The Rise of the Douche-Bag

Faster than the speed of thought

12 comments:

  1. Well said brother, well said

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  2. This was put as amazing as you can put it. That same Saturday night I was enjoying the company of my friends when I thought to my self oh I forgot my phone. I go to walk down to my apartment above the cinnamon tree and here is a police officer yelling for me to go inside. I tell her I am going to my apartment to get my phone. She didn't believe what I said till I departed the sidewalk up to my apartment I come back down to go back to the upper end and the other female officer is now on this side of the road saying I needed to get off of the sidewalk. I am sorry but that is like saying I can't go outside of my house into my front yard! Hello the side walk is my front yard and I have every right to walk outside of my house whenever I please! This is starting to get ridiculous and I live right in the action and I don't even hear any music or people. Patrons are not being the problem right now. What is the problem is running off people and business we need this places and people to keep growing and to make this area more beautiful. Thanks for writing this article and making people aware!

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  3. I bet I could tell you exactly who the officer was. And I would bet it is the same officer actually worked for the Upper End when the Champ kid was having unruly parites there a few weeks ago. The same cop that stood in the midst of all type of illegal activies while not saying a word. But, will go on the streets and harrass business owners that are not doing anything wrong.

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  4. Unfreakinbelievable!!! It's almost like there was some sort of curfew in place that no one knew about. I would complain to every level in city government!!

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  5. Nicely written Kool Keith.....

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  6. Thanks to everyone for the views and comments!

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  7. The question in the title is "What law is the City of Vicksburg enforcing here?" Well, let's start by looking at one of the offenses Mr. Belden was charged with, Disorderly Conduct (Section 17-34). https://library.municode.com/HTML/11515/level3/PTIICOOR_CH17OFIS_ARTIINGE.html#PTIICOOR_CH17OFIS_ARTIINGE_S17-34DICO
    Now I'm not sure what if anything was going on that night, but this ordinance is pretty vague and could be used in just about any situation. This is what he was charged with, so this is what should be looked at when you ask what law the city is enforcing.

    In reference with the incidents where people are being asked to get off the sidewalk, there actually is a law, Section 17-109, that says that "it shall be unlawful for any person ... to walk the street after 9:00 at night." Now, this is found in probably the most unlikely place in the Municipal Code but here's a link: https://library.municode.com/HTML/11515/level3/PTIICOOR_CH17OFIS_ARTIVPR.html#PTIICOOR_CH17OFIS_ARTIVPR_S17-109ST

    Now, the fact that this law is in the section regarding Prostitution is a bit odd. That should probably be changed. But, I could see how the VPD could get away with forcing people off the streets because of it.

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  8. Thanks, I'll check out the link. As far as what was going during Mr. Belden's arrest, nothing was going on. Nothing was going on the following Thursday night when he made a video of an encounter with the same officer. The point in this post is to point out the unevenness of the enforcement. They were only doing that in the 200' of the 1300 block of Washington St. where the two bars are located. There is foot traffic all over Vicksburg 24 hours a day. Why so selective?

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  10. The link mentioned above in the is regarding prostitution or soliciting. It reads:

    Sec. 17-109. Streetwalking.
    It shall be unlawful for any person or prostitute to walk the street after 9:00 at night, or at any time solicit any person on any street, or any public place, to accompany or to meet the person or prostitute at any place for the purpose of prostitution.

    The same police officer that arrested Mr. Belden last Saturday morning also approached him Thursday night while he and an employee were standing in front of his restaurant. Mr. Belden recorded the exchange and the officer can be heard telling Mr. Belden that he wasn't breaking the law or doing anything wrong but that he had to get off the street. When asked why, the officer said, "I'm just doing what I'm told". Mr. Belden asked, "By who?" and the officer replied, "It don't matter".

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    1. I think that 17-109 was made for the purpose of outlawing prostitution. My point is that it can be interpreted in a way that suggests that no person can walk the street past 9. That part, the vagueness of it, the fact that it doesn't specify that only people soliciting or participating in prostitution can't be out walking the street, could justify what police are doing down there.

      I saw the video that Mr. Belden posted and I agree that VPD is targeting these bars and this area. I also feel that they are either enforcing the law wrongly or have no clue what law they are enforcing if there is one.

      It's a shame that this is going on. Vicksburg needs nightlife. The city doesn't need police deterring people away from these bars. It doesn't need surveillance cameras that watch people 24/7. I hope someone realizes that before it's too late. There's public safety, and then there's enfringing on the publics freedoms. VPD needs to learn how to separate the two.

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