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City Council re-convenes with heightened security screening

 

In the aftermath of the tragic Bo Ward suicide several weeks ago, the City Council convened for the first time in new but temporary quarters to finish the prior agenda and continue managing the city’s business.

On. Oct 4, after a ruling to table a zone change request, Ronald ‘Bo’ Ward, claiming the decision had ruined him financially, pulled a handgun from his trouser pocket and shot himself before the Council and an audience of about 50 people.

I empathize with those who witnessed this tragedy; early in my career I was in a courtroom — in the days when security and metal detectors weren’t even on the radar — when a gunman began waving a weapon in open court. I hit the floor as police stormed the courtroom and wrestled the gun away, arresting its owner. With years of “police beat” and “court beat” behind me, it sadly no longer surprises me when tragedy strikes. I don’t like it, but it is not a surprise.

So it came to pass that Mayor Johnny Piper, with good cause, permanently closed the former Chambers and sought new quarters. So it came to pass that attendees at Monday’s City Council meeting were screened via metal detectors, but according to reports purses and cell phones were not allowed in chambers.

While I empathize with the need for security, I could not help but find the concept of withholding of purses from chambers a bit over the top in the paranoia department. And a bit discriminatory.

Most women carry purses, and most men do not. It seems to me that once a purse or bag (whether carried by a man or a woman) has been run through a metal detector and/or opened and visually inspected, banning them from chambers is redundant and unnecessary. Do men have to leave those deep trouser pockets and their wallets behind? What about the briefcases and other paraphenelia carried by officials and people doing business with the chamber?

Speaking as a woman, leaving my purse, with its highly personal contents (checkbook, wallet, ID, keys and even my extra dose of medications and asthmatic inhaler), outside the chamber is not acceptable. Especially not after it has been run through a metal detector and passed the inspection. Are we supposed to juggle these highly personal items in our hands, leave them lying open beside us on a bench or worse, on the floor at our feet?

Since I am anti-cell phone anyway, and admittedly neurotic on that subject, I wholly support requiring the setting of cell phones on vibrate in all public buildings and venues, and endorse that ban in Chambers, since ringing phones and phone calls during meetings of any kind are totally disruptive . Too many people seem unable to grasp the concept of ‘vibrate’ — as evidenced by the onslaught of ringing phones in places like public libraries, churches and theaters — and meetings. There was life before cell phones, and we all still managed to take of care of business.

But back to the point: given that handbags are run through metal detectors, unless there is a ‘lock and key’ place to keep such highly private and personal things as purses, and unless there is equal restriction on briefcases and other items, or places that may offer ‘concealment,; security has taken one step too far and stepped into the realm of unequal treatment.

In the wake of tragedy, the pendulum of caution often sways to the opposite extreme. City officials need to settle it somewhere in the realm of reasonable.


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