Judges won’t decide
A city’s character can’t be imposed from outside
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.