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Mokah Speaks: Discrimination and Women’s rights in downtown Athens

By Mokah Jasmine Johnson

Following the recent arrest of David Ellis Ippisch, the owner of two bars in downtown Athens -- The Hedges on Broad and 100 Proof -- on charges of rape, kidnapping and battery, I could not ignore the fact that this incident occurred at one of the same bars that received several discrimination complaints over the past few years, submitted through the Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement website and also publicly posted on “Yelp” by many dissatisfied customers. Accusations of discrimination, underage drinking, and assault, especially within downtown Athens have been an ongoing issue for over a decade. Unfortunately, prior to this latest alleged incident, neither The Hedges nor 100 Proof have been held accountable or investigated for alleged civil rights violations.

100 Proof previously came under criticism for selective dress code enforcement that denied admission to black customers.

As a civil rights activist I have fought against racial discrimination and mass incarceration, and during my journey I have come to understand the difference between “Law and Order” and "Justice." Within western society it is easy to enforce the law but it’s difficult to acquire justice. Historically, women and minority human rights have been violated not only by the offender but also due to oppressive laws.

During the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr. and various great leaders advocated for laws that would prohibit discrimination based on race, gender, or national origin. Still yet, over 40 years later, Georgia laws do not offer additional protections for Georgians beyond employment and housing. This means we’re not protected from hate crimes, white supremacy, and various sections of the 1964 Civil Rights Act are not being enforced or honored.

Title II of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination in places of public accommodation such as hotels, restaurants, movie theaters, and concert halls. Even so, black and brown people continue to be discriminated against and denied access from downtown establishments due to arbitrary dress code policies and personal biases without liability.

I have also noticed that attorneys often avoid taking on rape or civil rights cases because iin our legal system it is difficult to prove that an individual’s civil or human rights have been violated.

So, law and order may not equate to justice, but that doesn’t mean that government officials can't take action to ensure that all individuals receive equal treatment under the law, such as freedom from discrimination because it is obvious that we cannot rely on legislation to gain equity.

To reduce discrimination, underage drinking or assault in Athens bars and nightclubs we must demand that our local government regularly audit these establishment for more than just underage drinking, and begin to enforce the alcohol ordinance that prohibits discrimination established in 2017 by Athens Clark County Mayor and Commission (section 6-3-6 Athens Clarke County Code of Ordinances), in addition to work towards expanding or creating an ordinance that’s inclusive to all businesses not just bars. We may not be able to fully combat the cycle of hate and discrimination, but we can hold those accountable for violating our rights.

Mokah Jasmine Johnson is an activist, educator, entrepreneur, co-founder of the Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement and a District 117 candidate for the Georgia House of Representatives.

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