Last night’s East Precinct Crime Prevention Coalition meeting drew one of the largest crowds in recent memory, as more than 50 people sat in on a discussion of the mayor’s new Seattle Nightlife Initiative. The program is an attempt to balance the competing goals of having a vibrant nightlife in the city vs. the desire of residents in nightlife-having areas to sleep in peace and quiet.
There were a number of comments on specific elements of the plan, such as a proposal to introduce staggered bar closing times instead of the current hard 2am limit, the proposal for a new noise ordinance to limit the impact of amplified sound, and new rules to formalize the training of bar security staff.
But the most passionate discussion came from the large number of young African Americans who came to express their dissatisfaction with the way their music and culture have been increasingly marginalized in the city they live in.
Hip-hop artist Kenyatto Amen says that over the last ten years there’s been fewer and fewer black-owned clubs, and fewer and fewer other clubs that are accessible to black performers. “It’s now really hard to have put on black music, with club closings and others that won’t allow it,” he said, citing specific examples here in the Central District such as Deano’s and Oscar’s II, which were closed several years ago after a long-running battle between the businesses, the city, and neighbors in Miller Park who were upset over ongoing criminal activity in the area.
Everyone agreed that the city doesn’t currently, and couldn’t ever legally proscribe a certain kind of music. But Umojafest Peace Center founder Wyking Garrett said while it may not be codified, it is practiced as clubs have been shut down over safety concerns and hip-hop promoters have been denied access to other venues.
History plays a big role in the subject too. Omari Tahir Garrett cited the case of the Black and Tan jazz club that he owned at the corner of 12th & Jackson, which he said had a steady stream of enforcement action from the fire department, liquor board, and tax authorities, while other businesses in the area were allowed to continue operating in spite of having more documented issues. Garrett says that the difference was that he didn’t pay off the right people, as others did, and thus was the victim of selective enforcement. (The history of crooked city officials was a real and documented fact back in the 60s).
Emotions flared when a First Hill resident expressed an opposing view, citing the history of Vito’s, which was the scene of a brutal murder before it was shut down in 2008. His comment that “you can predict the crowd that will be drawn by certain types of music” drew a number of protests, with one man remarking that “kids get shot all the time at school, but we’re not shutting schools down.”
The big question is whether the new initiative has any components which could help solve the problem. We’ve recently covered the case of Waid’s at 12th & Jefferson, which is facing the revocation of its liquor license due to underage serving and violence around the bar. James Keblas, Director of the city’s Office of Film + Music, said that he thought the initiative might have made a difference had it been in place a year ago. He said noise was a key issue among neighbors around Waid’s, and said that the new noise ordinance that would give the city a tool to work with club owners to reduce their impact on the surrounding community. Waid himself has also cited poor security as a cause of some of the infractions his club has faced, so the city’s plan for mandatory training of security personell could have conceivably helped with that as well.
For more on the specific elements of the Nightlife Initiative, see http://mayormcginn.seattle.gov/nightlife/