Judges won’t de­cide

A city’s char­ac­ter can’t be im­posed from out­side

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - EDITORIAL PAGE -

Un­told mil­lions, maybe bil­lions, are spent by com­mu­ni­ties across the United States in an ef­fort to brand them­selves. Through ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paigns and pro­mo­tional ac­tiv­i­ties, cities and re­gions at­tempt to fash­ion an im­age that will be viewed fa­vor­ably when peo­ple look for places to visit, work or live.

Such ef­forts usu­ally in­volve care­fully crafted im­ages, slo­gans and other de­scrip­tions meant to whet the ap­petite for what­ever the town has to of­fer, whether it’s nat­u­ral ameni­ties, cul­tural events or well-pay­ing jobs. The goal is for a town to de­fine how it’s per­ceived rather than al­low­ing that to be ac­com­plished by events or by other peo­ple.

It doesn’t mat­ter how much money is spent on cre­at­ing an im­age, how­ever, if cer­tain events hi­jack the world’s per­cep­tion. Take, for in­stance, the city of Lit­tle Rock. It is many great things, but it will for­ever be known as the city in which a pres­i­dent had to fed­er­al­ize Na­tional Guard troops so that nine black chil­dren — and many thou­sands more after them — could at­tend pub­lic schools pre­vi­ously re­served for whites only. Some of the peo­ple of Lit­tle Rock, and the gov­er­nor of Ar­kan­sas, re­acted with such racism it con­tin­ues to stain the state’s cap­i­tal city now 60 years later. No ad cam­paign could over­come the im­age of white res­i­dents scream­ing ha­tred to­ward young stu­dents of an op­pressed race.

The city of Fayetteville’s Civil Rights Or­di­nance landed be­fore the Ar­kan­sas Supreme Court the other day, hav­ing been ap­pealed there by Ar­kan­sas At­tor­ney Gen­eral Les­lie Rut­ledge. She as­serts an Ar­kan­sas law pro­hibits the city from en­forc­ing any pro­hi­bi­tion against dis­crim­i­na­tion that goes beyond what state law­mak­ers have been will­ing to cre­ate.

Fayetteville vot­ers in the fall of 2015 said they want the Civil Rights Or­di­nance, a mea­sure drawn up to beef up pro­tec­tions for the les­bian, bi­sex­ual, gay and trans­gen­der com­mu­ni­ties.

The Supreme Court will de­cide whether Fayetteville’s or­di­nance is le­gal. Kyle Smith, who helped ad­vo­cate for the law, said it pro­motes the im­age that Fayetteville is a wel­com­ing place. “This has been a good ex­pe­ri­ence for the com­mu­nity,” he said. “I would that to see that hard work go to waste.”

And go to waste it will not, no mat­ter what the judges rule, be­cause what­ever kind of town Fayetteville is go­ing to be can­not be de­cided by robed men and women sit­ting in a cham­ber in Lit­tle Rock. If the law is in­valid, that’s a le­gal dis­tinc­tion. Such a rul­ing, how­ever, is not a def­i­ni­tion of the kind of place the peo­ple of the city want Fayetteville to be.

Laws are meant to pre­vent cer­tain things from hap­pen­ing and to au­tho­rize oth­ers. They are im­por­tant. But what they do not do is de­fine the char­ac­ter of a com­mu­nity. How Fayetteville is per­ceived is and will be de­ter­mined by the day-to-day be­hav­iors of the peo­ple who call it their home.

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