Tybee Island

By Tina A. Brown

Thousands of beachgoers descended onto Tybee Island last weekend and they were under a microscope. They were observed by a representative of the U.S. Department of Justice, city officials, law enforcement and members of the Concerned Citizens of Tybee, dancing, frolicking, drinking alcoholic beverages, noise, traffic patterns.

Orange Crush participants at the predominately black college aged gathering have faced aggressive regulations over the past three years by the city of Tybee. It prohibited open alcoholic beverages – something regularly allowed – traffic slowed to one-way motorists, traffic stops and property searches; limited housing rentals, noise and the closure of popular restaurants and businesses.

The Concerned Citizens of Tybee, who is made up of senior citizens complained how the “children were being mistreated,” said Julia Pearce, the organizer. And, the city reversed the alcoholic beverage law.

Pearce, an African American resident of Tybee for 22 years, says those kinds of regulations created Jim Crow ordinances – reminiscing before the civil rights laws were enacted in the 1960s. Others, like minded neighbors and friends, who are Caucasians like Philip T. Rosen and Jan Elders said, “their actions were racist”. Those words rang out Saturday morning during a meeting with Dion Lyons, a mediator for the U.S. Department of Justice Community Relations Service, who is working with the city and the Concerned Citizens of Tybee to create a fair process on how events are handled fairly from one event to another.

Lisa Lepofsky, Philip T. Rosen and Julia Pearce, members of the Concerned Citizens of Tybee, discussed the ramifications of cancelling Orange Crush
Lisa Lepofsky, Philip T. Rosen and Julia Pearce, members of the Concerned Citizens of Tybee, discussed the ramifications of cancelling Orange Crush

Lyons asked how laws have changed since an agreement in July. It was written to look at whether the city is managing “high volume” events like St. Patrick’s Day, July Fourth and Orange Crush. He reminded them that meditation can’t “change hearts and minds. But it does observe the law.”

Lyons came to observe noise, traffic and law enforcement arrests. If he finds inconsistencies between the events, Lyons told the group that he would recommend action to the U.S. Attorney and it could become a legal issue.

“If (the city) is following the mediation, it won’t become a legal issue,” Lyons told them.

The agreement says in part: “Points of Agreement”

The participants in the mediation have agreed to support the recommendation to the City Council that the city develop across the board objective criteria that will be applied equally for all holiday and/or tourism events, permitted or unpermitted. The city will continue to apply the permitting process as it now exists or as hereinafter amended.

The participants in the mediation have agreed to support the recommendation to the City Council that these criteria will define and establish the thresholds at which the city will initiate actions such as, but not limited to:

Police presence and other public safety resources, restrictions on open containers of alcohol, traffic control measures, sanitary facilities, litter control, and noise abatement.” www.cityoftybee.org

As the group encouraged Lyons to look at the jersey barriers blocking residential areas, traffic cones limiting travel to one lane and signs, Lisa Lepofsky, another concerned citizen, stopped to answer a call on her cellular phone.

“Orange Crush has been cancelled,” she read from the Tybee Island Police Department’s Facebook page, which was later taken down. “A promoter was arrested for operating a disorderly house”, she continued.

Later it was reported that George “Mikey” Ransom Turner, III was accused of damaging a house during an overcrowded party on Friday and using a fake name. Officials said Turner also sold tickets for the Orange Crush parties on Eventbrite website.

That didn’t stop the beach party.

As a key observer, Pearce, the founder of the Tybee MLK committee, spent the day Saturday afternoon until Sunday morning observing the city’s actions and that of the young people at Orange Crush. City Manager Shawn Gillen and Mayor Jason Buelterman also watched the crowd.

By midday, Pearce, Gillen and Buelterman bumped into each other on Butler Avenue, a popular bar and restaurant street.

“It’s pretty quiet,’’ the mayor said. “Everyone’s dancing and too much smoking of weed,’’ he said in jest.

Pearce nodded and she took photos with them. She also tried to document and photograph all types of events from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. She noted twerking competitions with women wearing thongs, and men gambling on the bridge surprised her. She spent a lot of time observing before she moved on. Later police officers surrounded the gamblers who were playing the red top game on a miniature carpet and flashed $100 bills.

The entire Tybee police force, Chatham County Police, Chatham County Sheriff, Georgia State troopers and undercover detectives – amounted to about 100 law enforcement officers who patrolled traffic and foot patrols for Orange Crush. It’s about four times more police than a regular weekend. There were approximately dozen people arrested on various misdemeanor charges over the weekend.

The city is also installing new vehicle license software to determine if the vehicle was legally on the roadway and whether the motorists have warrants. Gillen said by the end of the year, the scanners will be placed at the entrance of the bridge so that anyone traveling to Tybee Island will be checked.

“The mediation is working,” Gillen nodded as he walked the streets watching the visitors.

He said the council did not mention the alcoholic ordinance this year. It focused upon crowd control and traffic.

Lyons said he’d be back in July to observe the Independence Day festivities to compare how those beachgoers are treated.

This article originally appeared in The Savannah Tribune. 

Tybee Island Under Observation By The U.S. Department of Justice To Create A Fair Process on Special Events

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