The War on Hip-Hop

Nightclubs draw minorities, they get dissed by the authorities. Rap ain't allowed in this white-bread town. Don't hire our Kops? We bust yo' chops. Word.

Those demands had been a major factor in the decision to close the Jockey Club. And the demands have continued.

In November, for example, Dave Thomas, a Phoenix police precinct commander, met with managers from Zazoo, a club on Camelback that caters mostly to Hispanics. Thomas insisted the club hire no fewer than ten officers on Saturday nights--at a cost of more than $1,000 cash.

"At the conclusion of the meeting," Thomas wrote to the liquor department, "Mr. [Doug] Smith [the club manager] told me that he understood that noncompliance with these procedures would result in the Phoenix Police Department pursuing legal action by the State Liquor Board, City of Phoenix Planning Department, as well as immediate enforcement action by my department."

Smith says he did not even attend the meeting. But, he says, he agrees wholeheartedly with the commander's decision.

By and large, club owners are not eager to discuss, or criticize, the police or other regulators who have the power to close drinking establishments for any number of technical reasons, pulling authority from the morass of state and city regulations governing establishments that sell liquor.

But a search of public records shows that the Arizona Center, a downtown Phoenix mall, received a letter in late September from Phoenix precinct commander Michael Frazier demanding that it hire 15 officers because of the Hispanic clientele at the Cheyenne Cattle Co.

And Jackson Hole, a small club at Central and Jackson, was asked recently to hire four or five officers for its Saturday-night hip-hop crowd. Saturday was the only night of the week that the bar catered to black patrons.

The Reverend Oscar Tillman, president of the Arizona chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, looks at it this way: "My son who just got out of the Navy goes there, and I told him, 'You won't be going there for long, because as soon as the crowds start to swell with more blacks, you can rest assured they'll find some reason to pull them out of there.'"

And, indeed, Tillman's prediction has already come to pass. Jackson Hole has stopped its black hip-hop nights.

The police department claims that its authority to require bar owners to hire off-duty police officers rests on agreements that clubs make with city governments--agreements known, in bureaucrat lingo, as use permits.

Depending on the neighborhood zoning designations, in addition to a state-issued liquor license, a club may need these special permits from the city government to stay open after certain hours, or to allow dancing or live entertainment on the premises.

Ted Brookhart, a zoning administrator in the Phoenix Planning Department, says that, as part of the permitting process, he allows police precinct commanders to make judgments on the hiring of off-duty officers, based on the size of the crowds and the traffic a club is expected to attract.

But the available public record makes it clear that these judgments are not made uniformly. For one thing, there seems to be no written policy on how the judgments are made. And Phoenix police seem to judge that clubs catering to blacks and Hispanics often need to hire off-duty police--and white-clientele bars don't.

The Empire, an upscale white club at 24th Street and Camelback--that is, right in the middle of Commander Thomas' precinct--voluntarily hires two police officers a night, but it is not required to. There is no such requirement even though, in the first three months of its existence, the club has already appeared seven times in the liquor-report ledgers of the Phoenix Police Department's organized-crime unit. These ledgers log all police visits to liquor establishments resulting from violence, underage drinking, or other violations of liquor laws.

The hazardous Roxy appeared on that list 18 times in 18 months; even America West Arena turned up 12 times during that same period.

Brookhart denies that race is a factor in the bar-permitting process.
"Frankly, when I grant a use permit, I don't know what color or sexual orientation we're getting in the clubs," says Brookhart. "I base it on the size of the expected crowds."

But the use permits can be written to allow precinct commanders to dictate that the clubs hire not just security guards, but the police department's very own off-duty officers--creating at least the appearance of a flagrant conflict of interest.

Commander Thomas refused to discuss the matter with New Times. Representatives of the Maricopa County Attorney's Office would not comment on the record.

"Is it legal?" muses attorney Harvey Yee, who handles the lawyering for a number of Valley nightclubs. "The bottom line is, it's within the stipulations of a use permit, which presumably is a contract between you and the city. If the city says do it, and you want the permit, and you're willing to agree to it, then I guess it's legal."

On reflection, he adds, "It's a law that's never been tested."
And it's a law whose scope is difficult to pin down.
Brookhart could not name a single white club that is required to hire police officers as a term of its use permit.

But the Valley's minority clubs are not necessarily more violent than its white clubs.

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