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.

The Hi-Liter, a topless bar just blocks from Zazoo that is frequented mostly by white men, had a fatal gang shooting on November 24; as of this writing, police had not yet asked the bar to hire off-duty officers.

Graham Central Station, a country bar on the west side with a largely white clientele, has had its share of trouble, too. In the past 18 months, 63 liquor-violation reports at Graham Central have been filed with the organized-crime section of the Phoenix Police Department. Five thick files' worth of reports at the state liquor department detail acts of violence at the club.

Brookhart claims that both the Hi-Liter and Graham Central began operating before Phoenix instituted use permits as a way of regulating drinking establishments. Therefore, Brookhart claims, there is no way for the city to force the bars to hire off-duty officers.

The state liquor department also has authority to close "lawless" clubs, and that agency closed the Roxy.

But consider Jetz, a fashionable Scottsdale watering hole that has had 119 visits from Scottsdale police in the past 18 months. Those visits were prompted by, among other things, 13 assaults, two sexual assaults and three aggravated assaults. The Jetz files at the liquor department describe patrons hitting each other over the head with bottles. Apparently, only trying to kill someone is entirely different from succeeding, as far as alcohol-regulation efforts are concerned.

Is it a coincidence that only minority clubs in white neighborhoods must contend with the hire-a-cop requirements?

El Capri, a Hispanic bar in a Hispanic neighborhood in Phoenix, has knifing and shooting reports in its files, but the club has never been required to hire police officers.

"As long as you're in your territory, it's all right," says Tillman of the NAACP. "Down on Buckeye, you can have shootings every night."

George Foster, an African-American attorney who represented the Roxy, comments on what he sees as a double standard: "I believe there's a darn good cause for any of these clubs to fight this thing, because I believe that what they're trying to do is censure certain types of music and certain types of people from participating."

A year ago, there were plenty of places for blacks to party in Phoenix.
"Monday nights, it was 411 [a Tempe club]," says Danielle Hollomon, a black journalist who writes about music and the club scene. "Tuesday was ladies night at the Jockey Club, and that would be the one time you could put on your long dress and your heels and feel good. Wednesdays you took off; Thursdays and Fridays were the Jockey Club, and Saturday was the Roxy."

All of those clubs either have closed or changed formats.
The oldest and most established of African-American nightclubs in Phoenix was the Jockey Club, which was owned by a tough-talking Chicago septuagenarian named Herb Lieb. It was Lieb's second such club.

In 1971, Lieb opened a jazz joint in the former Greyhound Tower, at Second Avenue and Clarendon in Phoenix. He called it Herb's Underground.

"When I first came to Phoenix, Herb's Underground was the only place where people of color could go and not feel threatened or get thrown out," says Marcus Wright, a Phoenix radio personality. "I spent a lot of time at Herb's Underground."

Four years later, Greyhound bought out Lieb's lease. A year after that, Lieb built a new club in the 2100 block of Highland. He called it the Jockey Club and sold private memberships. And, although the majority of the clientele was white, it was not a segregated club.

When Lieb retired in 1985, he sold the building to a man named Vincent Leparulo, who first operated it as Vinnie's nightclub, and later as the Roxy.

Lieb did not stay retired for long. In 1989, a business associate talked him into reopening the Jockey Club, this time in a shopping center at Central and Camelback. He dropped the members-only requirement, and after a year or so he brought in a young black banker named Mark Chambers, who thought he could increase business by catering to the upscale black population.

The Jockey Club was an elegant place with a strict dress code, and the clients generally came dressed to the hilt: women in gowns, men in suits. There were doctors, lawyers and community leaders--and most of them were black. Part of the movie Waiting to Exhale was filmed there.

Lieb had always voluntarily hired off-duty police officers to provide security outside the club, and, though he claims to be the first club owner to do so, it became a standard practice. Police officers, he reasoned, were more experienced in crowd control than private security guards, they were armed and their uniforms proved a deterrent to those thugs who would prey on the club members.

In 1990, then-chief of police Ruben Ortega forbade Phoenix police officers to work at liquor establishments because of lawsuits filed against the city by bar patrons who had tangled with off-duty cops.

The Jockey Club's problems increased. Lack of off-duty police meant lack of security, and street gangs started gathering in the parking lot of the shopping center, getting into trouble and sometimes harassing club patrons. The police took note of the crime increase and blamed it on the Jockey Club.

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