Barricading the Square

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The City of Tuscaloosa came up with an idea on how to curtail violence in a downtown area called Temerson Square. During the pilot program, called “Summer In The Square,” city staff manned barricades would be be set up to close the area to vehicular traffic. The Tuscaloosa NewsJason Morton reported:

Following a shooting and a fatal hit-and-run in Temerson Square this spring, city officials vowed to take action in an attempt to quell any future violence.

[Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt] Maddox said Tuscaloosa Chief Brent Blankley has expressed concerns over motorists driving into, through or parking within Temerson Square and ‘causing problems.’

The barricading of the square from 11 p.m. until 3 a.m. on the night of June 17, June 18 and June 19 coincided with the first concert of the season at the nearby Tuscaloosa Amphitheater on June 17th.

Ryan Phillips in The Patch wrote that “future tests could see the incorporation of bollards, which are metal or concrete barriers that can be used to temporarily block roadways.”

On May 11, 2021, Tuscaloosa city council member Lee Busby led a discussion on Bar Safety during a Special Called Council Public Safety meeting.

Busby said that there had been a “rash of incidents” at Temerson Square and “chaos” on The Strip. The area that has had the most problems with violence contains 40 bars.

He said that he had been discussing the situation with bar owners but this meeting was the “first migration of the discussion into the public arena.”

Among the things that had been discussed were the possibility of having more physical police presence in the area, allowing bars to hire off-duty uniformed Tuscaloosa Police Department officers for security, and changing the operating hours for the bars. Bars were allowed to stay open until 3am on Saturday nights and 2am during the rest of the week.

City attorney Scott Holmes said that there were liability issues involved in the use of uniformed TPD officers for security in bars.

There were concerns about parking resulting in a spillover into residential areas. Many incidents involving guns haven’t occurred in the bars. People have returned to their vehicles to access weapons after arguments have started at the bars.

Busby said that the type of musicians who are booked at bars might be problematic. He said that there seemed to be a “flash mob mentality” involving bars.

Busby said that an inordinate use of police resources in the bar intensive areas deprived other parts of town.

He said that the City Council approved the liquor licenses of bars but revoking a business license because of problems was much harder and could involve an appeal in court.

To many, barricading the Square or The Strip with bollards to make T-Town‘s “Entertainment District” safer might have seemed like a work around to avoid more effective measures.

Was the city so impotent that it could not regulate operating hours or the density of bars in violence prone areas? Apparently the city’s legal staff was hamstrung. The lack of local authority could be traced to the state constitution of Alabama.

Tom Spencer of The Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama wrote that “the heavy involvement of state legislators in local affairs tends to create confusion about who is responsible for decision-making.”

Instead of being able to dampen down violence by regulating how bars were allowed to operate, in T-Town the first response had been to man the barricades.

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