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Buffalo Open Container Law Repeal?

I’ve often wondered what it would be like to be able to walk around Buffalo with an open beer in my hand (legally).

Would it be like being at the Bills game, but without the tailgating… or like St. Patrick’s Day 365 days a year? Or like East Aurora for that matter? I’ve walked down a sidewalk in the town of East Aurora, sipping a beer, because it’s legal to do that there. East Aurora is pretty laid back… kinda like being at a festival, super relaxed with no hassles.

Walking around with an open container is not legal in Buffalo. While the fun-loving side of me likes the idea of walking around with friends drinking a beer, the other side of me thinks that it might end up in chaos. Maybe I am a bit hesitant because I’m older these days. Buffalo is enough of a party town without the open container aspect.

But there are proponents out there who are fighting for Buffalo to repeal the ban – people like Aidan Ryan, who recently spoke in front of Common Council’s Legislation Committee, looking to get the law repealed.

Ryan says that it’s an outdated law. He also says that since the pandemic, there are more reasons than ever to consider repealing the law, not only for people who want to drink a beer (for example) while social distancing, but also for restaurants that could benefit from the measure – a customer could purchase a cocktail and walk down the street.

Aside from being for the common good of all Buffalo, Ryan is of the belief that the law originally came about in the ’70s as a racially motivated tactic (selective enforcement). Ryan cites the high arrest records in lower income neighborhoods as a systematic way of arresting people, by using the open container law as a foil.

Do you think that someone drinking wine at Shakespeare at the Park is going to get busted? What about someone drinking at MLK Park? He’s got a point there. And what about the person that wants to sit on a park bench with a beer because he or she can’t afford to drink in a bar? Another valid point raised by proponents. Just like in a bar, there should be enforcement for someone who is drunk and disorderly, but for those who are behaving and minding their own business while enjoying a drink…?

Ryan also feels that by repealing this dated law, it could alleviate some of the adversarial interactions between the black community that is being targeted, and the police officers that have more pressing things to do.

Should Buffalo embrace the Open Container as part of its storied party and drinking culture, similar to East Aurora and New Orleans?

Ryan belives that Buffalo could reap a lot of benefits in the repeal process, instead of simply adhering to a dated law that causes nothing but trouble for those who already have enough of it. To that end, he has gathered together a group of supporters, including Partnership for the Public Good (PPG).

“It’s been heartening to see such a diverse coalition of interests come to together to support this,” says Ryan. “I’ve had great conversations with the folks at Showing Up for Racial Justice, Free the People Coalition, and Legal Aid, who see this as an obvious case of selective enforcement and criminalizing unobjectionable behavior, and I’ve also had great conversations with business owners and members of the HBA and EVA, who recognize this as an opportunity to roll back old-fashioned local government overreach and help struggling businesses. I’m very grateful to everyone at the Partnership for the Public Good, which wrote a letter in support of repeal capturing multiple perspectives on the issue. And to anyone wary about repeal, I’d ask you to examine your reaction to the proposal. Do you really think drinking in public is, per se, wrong? If so, you’d have to object to most block parties, Shakespeare in the Park, and quarantine driveway beers–and I doubt that’s the case.  If you’re really concerned about open containers leading to public disturbances and separate behaviors that already carry their own criminal penalties, I’d suggest that our actions during the the pandemic have laid those concerns to rest. I look forward to the Council acting swiftly to repeal this legacy of our city’s racist and priggish past.”

At the end of the day, Ryan would need someone to sponsor the bill, the majority of the councilmembers to support it, and the votes to back it up. If he gets his way, he might just become the toast of the town.

Lead image: Photo by Kelsey Chance

Written by queenseyes


Newell Nussbaumer is 'queenseyes' - Eyes of the Queen City and Founder of Buffalo Rising. Co-founder Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts. Co-founder Powder Keg Festival that built the world's largest ice maze (Guinness Book of World Records). Instigator behind Emerald Beach at the Erie Basin Marina. Co-created Flurrious! winter festival. Co-creator of Rusty Chain Beer. Instigator behind Saturday Artisan Market (SAM) at Canalside, Buffalo Porchfest, and Paint vs. Paint. Founder of The Peddler retro and vintage market on Elmwood. Instigator behind Liberty Hound @ Canalside. Throws The Witches Ball at Statler City, the Hertel Alley Street Art Festival, and The Flutterby Festival.

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