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Standing room only

The rules for the Roanoke Recreation Center have struck a nerve within the city, and based on the citizen turnout at Monday’s Roanoke City Council meeting and the discussion that took place inside, progress appears to have been made in bringing the issue to a resolution.

That work is not yet complete, however. The recreation center remains closed to non-league activities and the contested rules remain in place. But the council indicated a willingness to include suggested changes from citizens and create a new set of rules to be voted on at a later date.

An estimated 40 people or more showed up Monday, and most of them were there to support the efforts of Rosalyn Langston in getting the council to reconsider the rules that were passed in June.

Langston gave a prepared speech addressing the need for the city eliminate what is seen as discriminatory practices.

“Each of you must be courageous in confronting the very appearance of discrimination where it arises,” Langston told the council, “assuring that we nip it in the bud and prevent it from taking root in this community. Let us work together to achieve a more inclusive community while striving to transform hearts and minds and challenging discriminatory beliefs.”

Two main issues that came to the surface during the meeting were confusion over the recreation center being closed, but activities such as sign-ups and league games still going on. And, perhaps more importantly, a sense that the recreation center was singled out for a list of rules that would not be applied to all city recreational facilities.

Later in the meeting, Langston spelled out those feelings.

“The problem where it comes in and it appears to be discriminatory is because the rules are not across the board,” she said. “If you’re going to say clear bags for the people that use the rec, that would mean clear bags at the softball field, clear bags at the soccer field, clear bags at the baseball field.”

The perception was not said, but is not hard to ascertain. In most cases, the majority of people who use the recreation center for open gym basketball games are Black. The majority of people who use the outdoor facilities are not, and therein lies the perceived double standard.

Mayor Jill Patterson-Hicks and council member Kesa Johnston have responded to those claims in past meetings, saying that the council has every intention of creating rules that could be applied department wide. The rules for the recreation center were created first because of recent renovations at that facility.

Both Patterson-Hicks and Johnston addressed the concerns over discrimination more clearly at Monday’s meeting.

“I don’t think anybody on this council has ever decided to pass these rules and save that facility for the purpose of closing it down,” Johnston said, citing money spent on renovating the center. “There have to be rules. We all agree. My intent has been for the safety of this community.”

She went on to cite the 67-page rule book in use for the Roanoke City Schools system and said that those rules are a “mirror image” of the four-page document the council passed for the recreation center.

She listed items that show up in both documents – proof of residency requirements, the prohibition of weapons, drugs, alcohol and tobacco, protection of school/city employees, dress codes and other items that have been protested.

“I believe every kid in this county should be able to go to that facility, and I believe it should be safe and welcoming. I agree with all of those things,” Johnston said. “But if these policies are seen as discriminatory then I would really urge everyone here that has a child to talk to the school board about their same rules.”

Patterson-Hicks spoke the final words on the matter before adjourning the Monday meeting, referencing the murders that took place in Dadeville earlier this year as a worst-case scenario that she hopes to avoid.

“A couple of months ago we all know what happened there. And no, it didn’t happen on city property but some very innocent lives got hurt. And that is coming to our town if we don’t buckle down now,” she said. “None of these rules keep anybody out of the rec center. None of these rules have the intent to keep anybody out of the rec center. These rules were established to make sure we know who goes in and comes out and we can ensure that our kids are safe. I never want to tell a mama that her kid got raped, got stabbed or shot at one of our facilities, and her come to me and say, ‘Jill, why did you not do more?’ These rules are not excluding anyone, and they’re not telling any individual that they can’t come.”

Roanoke resident Delvan Houston, who frequently attends city council meetings and has addressed the council over other issues in the past, also lent his voice to suggest a possible resolution just before the mayor’s comments.

“We all can agree that we do need some rules in place. We all can agree to that,” he said drawing nods and affirmative responses from most people in the room. “Why can’t we put a panel together along with the council and put our heads together, get these rules in line.”

“Unity is the key, and it can happen,” he continued. “But we’ve got to work together. We’ve got to work together. This is something that’s simple. Real simple. It’s a easy fix, an easy compromise if we just come together get those rules in line and move forward.”

The next city council meeting is scheduled for August 21.

Over 40 Roanoke residents showed up for Monday’s meeting of the Roanoke City Council. The crowd packed the seating area and spilled out into the lobby at City Hall in Roanoke.

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