Commentary: Responsible Or Scapegoats?

By Derrell Connor Special To Channel 3000

R Place on Park, owned by musician Rick Flowers and longtime community activist Annie Weatherby-Flowers, is on the brink of being shut down due to neighborhood disturbances and incidents of violence. Its situation mirrors a number of bars/nightclubs that have experienced similar fates over the years?from the Underground to the Paramount to Club Majestic?except for one exception: the prevalence of the gangsta rap genre of hip-hop music.

There?s no question that the music?s lyrics, videos and the artists themselves project a certain image. Like punk rock in the late 70s and early 80s, gangsta rap portrays rebellion, aggression, and even violence. Unfortunately, some people choose to act out on those negative messages. They are the few knuckleheads that ruin a night for everybody else simply looking for a place to have a good time.

So the issues we?ve faced as a community in the last ten or fifteen years isn?t about the establishments themselves or who happens to run them. Club Majestic?s proprietor was a member of a well-known and respected family that has owned and operated restaurants on the south side and downtown for decades. Instead, the issue we?ve come to blame is gangsta rap. And the message from the Madison Police Department and the city?s Alcohol License Review Committee is this: if you own a hospitality business that features hip-hop music, we have no tolerance for the complaints and incidents that follow.

OK, fine. But here?s the problem with this particular law enforcement policy: the fact that the clientele at these places happens to be mostly African American gives the impression that there?s more to the issue than just the music, even if there isn?t. Especially when venues like the Kollege Klub, which has had a long history of violence and underage drinking, gets a slap on the wrist by being allowed to have their license temporarily revoked from mid-December to mid-January while most of their patrons?UW?Madison students?are away on break. You can bet that a bar that plays hip-hop would not have received the same consideration.

Let?s look at it another way. Suppose you owned a gas station/convenience store that has endured a series of police calls because of incidents of loitering, fights, and even gunshots in the parking lot. As the proprietor, are you responsible for what goes on outside, even if you?ve implemented all the voluntary as well as required safety measures and precautions at your disposal? Or what if a fight breaks out in the crowd at Camp Randall, and the instigators are removed but they wait around until the game is over and then fire shots at the people with whom they had an altercation inside the facility. Is the University of Wisconsin responsible, or the perpetrators themselves? Of course it?s the ones who caused the ruckus, right?

Why then is it so difficult to understand that in the case of R Place on Park, if Rick and Annie Flowers have done everything that the Madison Police Department has asked of them in terms of safety and security, why are they responsible for what a few knuckleheads do outside? Do you think they welcome these incidents? Do you think they want to lose their business? We continue to punish the business owners in this city, and not the people causing the problems. And on top of everything else: R Place doesn?t play much hip-hop; their musical offerings are primarily the blues, jazz and R&B.

It?s also important to mention that there have been plenty of hip-hop artists, even gangsta rappers, who?ve performed in Madison without incident. So we can?t say it?s always about the music. But what I can say is that it?s time for us to start finding real ways of dealing with this problem instead of constantly blaming hardworking owners, who also happen to be taxpayers, employers and in the Flowers? case, positive community role models.