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.

"All you had to do was read the reports," says Brian Goodwin, an attorney for the Jockey Club, "and they [the criminal suspects in the reports] were Hispanic surnames. And the ages--no one was accusing us of letting minors into the Jockey Club.

"What had happened is, police were getting tough about the McDonald's parking lot at 16th Street and Camelback. Now all the kids were hanging out in the Uptown Plaza because it was so dark back there, and they could rummage around.

"And all of a sudden, there'd be shootings in the parking lot. They just lumped all that shit against the Jockey Club."

In June 1992, while Lieb was negotiating with the police to get his officers back, there were two shootings in the shopping center's parking lot. Although the shootings were not adjacent to the club, and although Lieb did file the requisite reports, he was called before the liquor department and accused of not filing an act-of-violence report in a timely manner. The liquor department yanked his license.

Lieb successfully appealed the suspension, but then-superintendent Mark Mazzie imposed a peculiar caveat to the restored license: Whereas Lieb had been prohibited from hiring off-duty police, he now had to hire them to provide security on Fridays and Saturdays--six of them, including a police sergeant.

To this day, the Jockey Club is the only establishment that has had its state liquor license specifically tied to hiring off-duty police officers. Lieb's use permit to allow dancing, which was issued by the city Planning Department, was also made contingent on his hiring police officers.

At first, Lieb did not find the police security to be a strangling expense. The precinct commander with jurisdiction over the Jockey Club, Bradley Thiss, was willing to let Lieb hire varying numbers of officers, depending on how much business his bar was doing.

In July 1994, Dave Thomas replaced Thiss as precinct commander. Lieb says Thomas insisted that Lieb have six officers on duty two nights a week.

"He didn't care if we took in $1,000 on a Tuesday," says Lieb. "We had to pay the officers $480, cash.

"It's a violation of my constitutional rights," he continues. "It's harassment. I don't need them to tell me how many officers I need. I've gotten along for 25 years."

Lieb's relationship with the police became increasingly antagonistic. He complained that the white cops on duty would follow his patrons in squad cars, "herding them like cattle" and insulting them over bullhorns. He began to request black police officers.

Lieb claims liquor department officials told him the only way to test Thomas' authority in the matter was to violate the terms of his liquor license and force a hearing. And so, in the fall of 1994, Lieb hired only five off-duty officers for two weekends in a row.

In January 1995, Thomas dragged the Jockey Club into hearings before the state liquor department, claiming that the club was the seed of major crime in the neighborhood. The board's hearing officer found otherwise:

"The testimony of Thomas regarding the alleged criminal activity referenced in exhibit 3 was too general and vague to be given significant weight with respect to its relationship to the licensed business."

The hearing officer also noted that Lieb had met frequently and worked cooperatively with the former commander, Thiss.

Lieb kept his license, but was fined $500 for not hiring the specified number of police officers.

Then, in late April, the Phoenix Police Department moved its enforcement activities to the municipal level and asked the Phoenix Planning Department to revoke the club's use permit for dancing--an action that effectively would put Lieb out of business.

Lieb likened the use-permit hearings to a kangaroo court.
"One woman from the neighborhood said that her 14-year-old daughter was walking down in front of the Jockey Club, and she saw this black guy, and she thought she was going to get raped," Lieb recalls. "I told this woman that was a sick remark."

Lieb lost his special use permit anyway. He says he spent $50,000 in legal fees over three years and paid more than $200,000 in cash to the police officers working security.

"It's coercion," says his attorney, Brian Goodwin. "It just put us out of business."

Lieb filed an appeal of the permit revocation, but closed the club before he went before the Board of Adjustments. In early November, he sold the business to a company that intends to open a Sweet Tomatoes chain restaurant.

If Commander Thomas and the Jockey's neighbors wanted white bread, they are going to get it.

Mark Chambers, who had worked for Herb Lieb at the Jockey Club, took over as manager of the Roxy in 1993, and his vision for the club included more than members of the Valley's black establishment. The Roxy's crowd might be integrated one night, Hispanic the next, black the night after. But, as at the Jockey Club, there was a strict dress policy. Customers went through a metal detector at the door to make sure they were not carrying weapons.

"There was never any feeling at the Roxy that something bad was going to happen," says journalist Danielle Hollomon. "The only time you'd have that gangster element was during the hip-hop shows. But the Roxy didn't just cater to the hip-hop crowd."

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