Skip to comments.Marion Square Sunbathing Burns Up Councilman
Posted on 04/25/2003 2:59:48 PM PDT by Big Steve
Marion Square sunbathing burns up councilman
Gilliard approaches police, C of C about deterring bikini display
BY JASON HARDIN
Of The Post and Courier Staff
It's Charleston's own version of "shock and awe:" scantily clad sunbathers soaking up the rays in Marion Square.
Ever since the city wrapped up its renovation of the popular downtown park, it has become a hot spot for bikini-wearing college students. On any fine day, dozens of students soak up rays, turning heads and even, apparently, stopping traffic.
One city councilman says the display is inappropriate in a place frequented by families and surrounded by churches. Councilman Wendell Gilliard says he is ready to take a stand, comparing the activity to the hot-selling "Girls Gone Wild" videos of college students in various stages of drunken undress.
"I've seen them pushing the limit. They have their breasts exposed, their ... rear end exposed, wearing a G-string bikini," he said. "This 'Girls Gone Wild'-type attitude has caught ahold all across the country. We don't want it to get to that point, but I'm sad to say I think it's at that point now."
Gilliard, who has led the city's effort to shut down a West Ashley adult video store, said he was disturbed by the sight of several sunbathers during a recent gospel music concert in the park. He added that they have caused other problems, including a recent traffic jam.
"Everybody thought something had happened, but these two guys in a truck were looking at the girls laying out on the lawn," he said.
Gilliard recently asked city police to look into whether the bikinis violate the city's indecent exposure ordinance, and he will meet with College of Charleston officials to ask them to deter students from sunbathing in the park.
It's not clear whether his efforts will lead anywhere. His comments drew little reaction from other council members at a recent Charleston City Council meeting, and Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. said he doesn't agree that sunbathing is a problem.
For students lying in the sun Thursday afternoon, the idea of a crackdown on sunbathing went over like a third- degree burn. Most said no one would see anything there that couldn't be seen at the beach and that there's nothing wrong with seeing people in bathing suits anyway.
"Girls walk around in skimpy bathing suits. That's what they do here," said Shannon Malmstrom, stretched out in the grass with two friends, all wearing two-piece bathing suits.
Students say they come to the park to relax, hang out with friends and sometimes meet members of the opposite sex. Many don't have cars and don't have an easy way to get to the beach. Back on their campus, there are few spots where enough sun filters through the live oaks to make sunbathing worthwhile, they said.
Jennifer De La Cuesta said she doubted any kind of sunbathing ban would work.
"Do you know what kind of protests there would be? Everybody would be out here sunbathing," she said.
"Everybody would be naked!" joked Malmstrom.
Those with more clothes on agreed.
Sam Morgan, visiting Charleston from Virginia, said he saw no problem with students in bathing suits.
"If there were frolicking in the fountain, having a wet T-shirt contest, that would be something different," he said.
That idea seemed to sound all right to another park-goer, who declined to give his name.
"Let 'em go wild," he said. Dennis Brown, lounging in the park with his dog Schatzy, said Gilliard's idea smacks of government intrusion.
"If this person feels offended, then he should avert his gaze. But he simply has no right whatsoever to impinge on the rights of others," he said. "We still have one foot in the Victorian Age."
Brown said he likes to see women sunbathing.
"There's nothing wrong with it," he said. "I'm able to simply enjoy female beauty and not feel guilty about it. There's a big difference between enjoying and leering."
Not everyone disagreed with the Gilliard's idea.
The Rev. Carl Wiggins, pastor of the Chapel of the Holy Spirit in Ladson, said he wouldn't mind seeing a sunbather-free Marion Square.
"I'm here praying, and it's hard on a human being not to be distracted," he said.
Concerns about improper attire aren't new in Charleston. In recent years, some downtown residents have complained about sloppily dressed tourists, although no one has sought to ban them. For the most part, those complaints have centered more on questions of respect than outright indecency.
The city's indecent exposure ordinance states, "No person shall appear in any public place or property open to the public in state of nudity or otherwise make any indecent exposure of his or her person."
Gilliard said he does not necessarily want police to start attempting to enforce the ordinance against bikini-wearing sunbathers, although he does hope the college will attempt to restrain them.
Riley said he does not agree there is a problem.
"It's spring, and warm days after a cold, gray, dreary winter ... attract sunbathers," he said. "Frankly, I feel that it's a very positive thing that Marion Square, beautifully restored ... is attractive to our citizenry."
Police Maj. Herb Whetsell said officers would have a difficult time trying to enforce an ordinance against sunbathers, although public nudity is another thing entirely.
"If a person is standing out there peeing on the sidewalk, yeah, we'll lock them up," he said.
Figuring out what kind of swimsuit should be considered indecent would be difficult, he said.
"The problem is, the Supreme Court has been trying to figure out for 30 or 40 years what indecent exposure is. So how's a cop going to figure it out? he said. "It is unenforceable ordinance. That's something you just don't want touch."
I've simply tried to view this, and some of the responses, from a bigger picture perspective. I have been trying to suggest that there are more important matters to get up in arms about. See post #46 from Big Steve. I think his thoughts with respect to the seriousness of the problem is more appropriate and his reaction demonstrates a balanced level of gravity with regards to the situation.
Both of our positions (with Dixie on your side of the fence) share a similar flaw. It is impossible to identify the approriate extreme to which we will allow our position to go before we admit there is a problem with it. While I point out that the slope on your approach can lead to Burkhas and Public Executions, I have to admit that the slope on my view can lead to society becoming completely unglued and morally bankrupt.
I honestly don't know how to reconcile this. I'm conflicted in that a libertarian philosophical approach seems the best way to protect us from the PC crowd itself, but it allows those things that I personally feel are bad for individuals or society as a whole. This is why I bristle when I am accused of wanting the very things I don't personally approve of, yet still question using too much government to control them.
I hope you can understand this.
Big Steve's suggestion regarding what to do about the problem is more reasonable, from my perspective. I personally don't like using police, courts and other valuable resources to satisfy specific individuals when other, more serious affronts to a decent, civilized society are taking place.
People can reason with one another and society can pressure its members to do the right thing. This never leads to perfection, because everybody has different ideas of what perfection would be. Some societies employ morality police to achieve the level of "decency" that dictatorial rulers and their lynch mobs deem appropriate. I don't want us to become Afghanistan, or even Singapore, in terms of imposing too much rule from the top. Unfortunately, my argument is a slippery slope argument which may seem invalid when one remains focused on a specific narrow issue.
I prefer to deal with things I don't like in a less aggressive fashion, avoiding the use of "law" if you will, in order to preserve our freedom. I fear that one day, I may not care for those things deemed appropriate by a different set of rulers and that those rulers may restrict my ability to engage in those things that I do deem appropriate, like going to church, praying, raising my kids in a particular way, etc.
I guess that I fear Hillary's village more than I fear sunbathers at this particular point in time.