A group of concerned citizens is hoping to hear more from the Mobile City Council on a proposal that would limit what controversial parading society The Comic Cowboys could write on signs displayed during their parade on Mardi Gras day.
The Cowboys took some heat last year when their signs — akin to political cartoons — were deemed racist and offensive by many parade attendees. The controversy caused Mayor Sandy Stimpson and Councilman Joel Daves to resign from the group.
Resident David Smith spoke for a number of citizens at Tuesday’s meeting. He said the citizens wanted the city to ensure the Comic Cowboys stood by its written promise to “take everyone’s feelings into consideration” during the 2018 parade.
“For the 2018 Mardi Gras season, concerned citizens seek further action from the mayor, the City Council and the Mobile Carnival Association to ensure that the members of The Comic Cowboys organization adhere to their written promises made in last year’s letter,” Smith said. “The citizens of Mobile welcome satirical, even biting, commentary, but should not be subjected to intentionally misogynistic or racially charged images and messages. The Mobile City Council is not powerless in this matter and can take steps to ensure a balanced compromise that upholds the First Amendment yet preserves the spirit of decency and grace that this city is known for.”
Smith referenced an anti-discrimination ordinance passed by New Orleans. The ordinance has a section on private clubs, but as council attorney Wanda Cochran pointed out, the law applies only to “public accommodations” and does not apply to private clubs.
“I’m not going to tell you how important the First Amendment is,” she said. “I think you know that.”
Smith told Cochran the intent was not to mimic the New Orleans law, but to use it as a guide. After the meeting, Smith told a gaggle of reporters the New Orleans ordinance helps to assuage concerns of residents over racially charged incidents. Smith said the group was looking for a little bit more sensitivity.
Councilman Levon Manzie tasked Cochran with getting together with Smith and the others to possibly come up with a compromise. Smith said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the process.
“I see that there’s a chance for dialogue,” Smith said. “Further dialogue would be appreciated.”
In other business, the council delayed a vote on extending the one-cent sales tax increase for five years, per council rules. A council committee has already recommended the council vote to extend it through Sept. 30, 2023.
The council also denied a waiver of the noise ordinance for a group asking to protest Strickland Youth Center. Councilman Fred Richardson made the motion to deny the request, stating that an amplified protest could be a disruption to juvenile court proceedings taking place over 12 days.
Richardson said the group is free to protest, but would not be given a green light to use amplified sound.