ATLANTA — A false fire alarm couldn't stop protesters from showing up and voicing their discontent with a proposed city ordinance that would shut down Atlanta businesses deemed public nuisances after two violent incidents.
Business owners like Johnny Mims believe the proposed ordinance directly targets people and business owners of color. Dozens of protesters showed up to City Council Monday, calling it unfair that businesses could be punished for crimes that happened near them. Mims feared people may lose jobs, livelihoods and entire neighborhoods to potential investors and developers if the ordinance, as it stood, went through.
“The present language that this legislation is in is so vague, and it’s bad across the board for certain businesses," Mims said. "They need time and we need time to adjust the legislation and make it where it fits for everyone and not against somebody, because it also weaponizes developers in these areas.”
Abraham Wossen owns a restaurant and lounge, noting Atlanta's prominent and vibrant nightlife. He said while he does not have any issues with crime at his businesses, the language of the proposed ordinance might be openly interpreted to crack down on his business and others.
"They never define what a nuisance is," Wossen said. "They’re singlehandedly targeting the nightlife and restaurant and nightclub business. We can control what comes in our building, but we can’t control what’s on the street. That’s not our job.”
Last year, the City of Atlanta tried to crack down on crime by threatening to revoke a business's liquor license if they violated the nuisance ordinance. The city has also since added hundreds of new cameras and shut down several nightclubs due to ongoing crime problems. The Georgia Restaurant Association president previously backed the City of Atlanta’s move to crack down on nuisance businesses.
District 5 council member Liliana Bakhtiari said city council would table the proposed ordinance for now, speaking with stakeholders to learn how best to come to a compromise that would foster more community support.
"The community has held us accountable, they’ve made their voices known, so now we’re planning to hold it today and taking into account everything the communities brought forth," Bakhtiari said. “Those owners fully know what’s happening and refuse to take action, it’ll sometimes take us two years to shut those businesses down, when there are lives being lost there and they’re knowingly being negligent. But the process is far too slow, and we end up losing people in the process because we’re limited in what we can do.”
It could take weeks, maybe months, to come to an agreement on how to reduce crime. Business owners said reducing crime is the common goal, but city council should counsel them before taking action.
“This is a unique city in terms of which club ownership, restaurant ownership, is owned by the people it serves," hip-hop artist Killer Mike said. "It’s owned by Black people, so this is a small business issue. This is a Black issue for me.”
"We’re not going to close the W if violence happens there. We’re not going to close Lenox Mall if violence happens there. We’re not going to close any corporate backed businesses, but small businesses are now under fire. If we don’t take care of mixed lounges, Hookah bars and such that we own, you will not have people to run to when it’s time to get elected again," Mike said.