First Friday

Universatile Music's Downtown Phoenix Gallery Raided on First Friday for Allegedly Selling Booze Illegally

Things got a little crazier than usual during First Friday in downtown Phoenix this past weekend after Phoenix police officers raided UM Gallery (the Fifth Street art space run by local hip-hop promoters Universatile Music) on charges of serving beer and wine without a permit.

The incident started just after 10 p.m. when about a half-dozen officers shut down the gallery's First Friday celebration, pulling the plug on a few DJs spinning hip-hop music outside on the porch in the process. The cops then detained five members of the UM posse that were inside, including promoter Reuben Martinez, artist Jules Demetrius (who's artwork was on display), and Dusty Hickman (who also goes by the DJ handle Pickster One).

Martinez later told me that they were serving cans of PBR and cups of Charles Shaw wine (a.k.a. "Two Buck Chuck") to patrons in exchange for a "recommended donation" to help support the gallery. Hence, he claims that they weren't in violation of state liquor laws. The cops obviously disagreed, as Martinez, Demetrius, and three others were cited for selling booze without a permit (which is a Class 2 misdemeanor).

Martinez says they'd also scoped out a few undercover officers dressed like "wanna-be stoners" prior to the bust, including one cop he claimed was dressed in a flannel shirt and a faded Captain America tee (guess that's what the Phoenix fuzz thinks the kids are wearing these days).

Meanwhile, the situation caused a major uproar outside the gallery, as several First Friday attendees and vendors gathered on the gallery's front lawn and along Fifth Street began arguing with police officials over the matter. Several in the crowd shouted obscenities at the po-po's (including the standard "Fuck the police," as well as "We outnumber them!") and began shooting video, resulting in another two dozen officers bein dispatched to the scene.

The cops were relatively subdued despite the hubbub and busted out the handcuffs only once, for a 20-something female (pictured). She was released later without being cited. The crowd eventually dispersed as First Friday drew to a close, and one individual was later arrested after he tagged the back of a Phoenix police SUV with the letters "UPG." (Uh...what?)

Another particularly mouthy instigator was a portly gentleman dressed in a Charles Bronson T-shirt who began leading a chant of "Let them go!" The rotund instigator (who declined to give his name) told me he felt no one should've been detained and that the situation didn't warrant that much of a police presence.

"It seems unnecessary for them to use so much force for something like this," he said. "It's pretty messed up that there are so many cops here."

(Um, don't know if anyone's told you this, bro, but cops have a tendency to react when angry crowds start pulling an N.W.A. by screaming epithets like "Fuck the police.")

Of course, this isn't the first time that the P.D. has put the smackdown on possible liquor code violations during First Friday, as the monthly event has a long history of booze getting slung illegally. In fact, there were at least two other art spaces in the vicinity of the UM Gallery that were hawking hooch (not that I'm naming names or anything). It begs the question of why they were specifically targeted.

In fact, you might recall "Black Friday" from four years ago, where the cops and city of Phoenix officials were out in force to crack down on various code issues, including numerous alcohol issues. (Does the UM raid mean that the cops are about to start knocking on the doors of other galleries? One has to wonder...)

But unlike the gigantic kafuffle that followed "Black Friday" (which I documented in a 2005 cover story), the Universatile Music folks are hoping to dispense with this issue quickly and quietly. Martinez says they'll be hiring a lawyer to represent them during a hearing on the matter scheduled for next Monday. If convicted, they're facing a possible $750 fine and up to four months in the slammer. He's expecting that the charges will be dropped, however.

"None of it gonna stand up in court," he says. "The cops charged a few people who really had nothing to do with selling liquor."

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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.