Our Word: Save the Strip

By Gus Bode

The issues surrounding Carbondale and its Halloween celebrations have spread over a four-decade period.

Periods of peace in relation to these festive occasions have always given way to years of riots, mass arrests and tons of bad publicity for the city. Since Halloween night in the year 2000, when riots on the Strip had to be contained with tear gas from the police, those in town during that time of the year have seen that vital part of the social scene become a ghost town.

Fortunately for those who have resented this decision by our local government, the time has come for the Carbondale City Council to think over its restrictions on bars and other Strip businesses during Halloween. A report on the city’s Halloween restrictions was requested earlier this year by Mayor Brad Cole and is scheduled for discussion at tonight’s City Council meeting.

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In the interest of fairness and the spirit of good fun, an opposition to the restrictions should be made, or at least some sort of manageable middle ground that could make the Strip functional and still safe.

In years past, Halloween in Carbondale has gone from a freewheeling street party to an organized city event with stops everywhere in between. SIUC has tried to do its part by establishing midsemester breaks during Halloween week, but nothing has curbed mischief during the end of October better than closing the bars on the Strip. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the restrictions extended for another several years – the last thing that Carbondale or SIUC wants is to have everything open for Halloween 2007 and see another headline-grabbing incident on the Strip.

From the 32-page report that will be deliberated today: “Carbondale and SIUC cannot afford new negative publicity for a problem Halloween. The community has invested six years into having success at Halloween; one bad year would render that success moot.” Yes it would, but are we so sure the students of this university and the residents of this city are so willing to throw the goodwill of recent years away and put Halloween in Carbondale back into a dark age?

There is a chance of seeing relaxed restrictions, but the bars could still be affected. For instance, they wouldn’t be open after sunset, but is that enough? There is a middle ground to be found to this issue, but there’s no chance of it coming to fruition with only this report to go on.

Like SIUC on a bigger stage, the University of Wisconsin and the city of Madison have had their share of Halloween riots in which, for the past four years, police have had to use pepper spray to detain out-of-control crowds. This year an estimated 35,000 partiers spent their time having fun but with a strong police presence and an admission fee charged by the city. With those actions, Madison saw 300 fewer arrests during Halloween weekend. It has to be noted as well that the town saw 45,000 less people attend their Halloween outings.

One of those who showed up happened to be from SIUC. Senior Tom Berringer was quoted in an Associated Press story about Madison’s Halloween and was quoted as saying he thought it would be “more chaotic.”

Those who are affected by this issue, those who plan to spend many more Halloweens in Carbondale, should attend tonight’s meeting and let the council know how much of a reality tasteful Halloween celebration is in Carbondale because they don’t believe it right now.

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Carbondale has recognized the economic hurt that the Halloween shutdown has meant to Strip businesses, and the report shows a willingness to make payments to the bars that have to close. Even if the ban isn’t immediately lifted, perhaps the council can find it within itself to slowly allow students to experience Halloween freedom once again.

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