Night Life in Montgomery

From time to time, I wonder why I don’t go out more in Montgomery. I have lived in a fair number of large cities and have visited countless others. I like going out to bars and clubs. Sometimes I like to go hear live hip-hop. Sometimes I like to go hear electronic music and go dancing. I like good beers, whether in upscale joints or places with sawdust on the floor. Other times, I prefer a more lounge sort of environment, with couches and tasty mixed drinks, maybe a pool table or some darts. Why don’t I go out more?

Then I read articles like this one in the Montgomery Advertiser, and I remember that I’m not in New York or Austin. I’m not even in Tuscaloosa, which has some problems with the police and some anti-drinking forces within the university but by-and-large tries to accommodate the young people and nightlife crowd with a variety of bars and live music venues.

No, Montgomery is no Tuscaloosa. Here, bars and clubs are the enemy (unless, of course, you are talking about The Alley and the Entire Future of Downtown Redevelopment). To most who live in this area, Montgomery must be fled by sundown. For those who stay behind, you’ve got what is discussed in The Advertiser’s article: a police-state crackdown with SWAT raids on local businesses. As if I needed another reason to be glad I’m not a student at Alabama State.

Let’s take a look at the article, from Feb. 10 by Scott Johnson. Headline: “City Uses Raid-Style Inspections on Nightclubs.” Well, that’s fantastic PR right there. Really just what you want to see when you are thinking about holding a convention in Montgomery or going out for a night of dancing. The thing is, the Chamber of Commerce types who that ought to bother are probably more mad at the newspaper for reporting the truth than they are at the police for turning local clubs into Gestapo Night.

So what’s behind the use of armed SWAT raids at local clubs (some of which have no history of violence)? According to the article, “through the years,” there have been shootings at some nightclubs. How many shootings? How many years? It takes some hashing through the article to discover.

From a careful read of the piece, we learn that one club was shut down by the city: Top Flight Disco … in 1997!

And another club, Celebrations, closed on its own in 2007 after some controversy.

Oh no! Two clubs closed in the past 13 years! Horror! Call in the SWAT team!

I’m frankly surprised they were able to get the owner of Rock Bottom American Pub to go on the record as complaining about the raids. Even money says that club gets the door kicked in just to make sure the liquor licenses are up to date. Oh wait, Rock Bottom already was raided, along with six other nightclubs on Jan. 16 and nine more the night before that. Fifteen clubs in two nights!

Maj. Huey Thornton, a police spokesman, said the SWAT team was necessary for the safety of the inspectors.

“These officers have specialized training in dealing with situations where there may be large crowds,” Thornton said. “We don’t want to send our officers — or any city or state em ployees — into any situation without providing them the safety and security to accomplish their mission.”

Damn, maybe that’s the kind of important crime fighting lesson we missed at the Crime Expo.

Three places were shut down for over-crowding — Frontstreet Entertainment, Magic Nights Club, and Club Rewind. For how long were they shuttered? Oh, for a whopping 16 hours, although the court has the option of suspending their business license for 10 days.

Frontstreet Entertainment was certainly a likely target of the raids. Montgomery residents will remember that there was a shooting there on Christmas night, injuring two teenagers. Horror. Freakout. Teens not old enough to drink were at a nightclub. Shooting. Christmas.

And yet while the article says the Frontstreet shooting “prompted” the city to take action, the quote from Mayor Todd Strange calls the raids “a proactive approach.” Either the article is wrong and the Frontstreet incident had nothing to do with MPD’s raids, or the mayor doesn’t know the difference between “proactive” and “reactive.”

But sure, we get the point. He’s explaining why the cops are raiding the clubs where there is no history of violence. They’re showing up with guns to prevent violence from happening. That makes tons of sense. Send ’em a message!

Oh, but also, buried in the story was the fact that there was also a fatal shooting at something called Club O’s back in January. Club O’s then shut its own doors. So let’s recap the rationale for the raids:

1. Top Flight Disco was shut down 13 years ago.

2. Celebrations closed itself amid controversy three years ago.

3. Two teens were shot (but not killed) at Frontstreet Entertainment in December.

4. Two people were killed at Club O’s in January (and then Club O’s closed down).

Holy crap! Let’s nuke the Alley Bar! I might have seen a Huntington student use a fake ID to get into Bud’s and order a margarita at El Rey’s! Let’s burn something down!

And if you like to shoot pool at Deja Vu, just keep in mind that your money is going into the pockets of an owner who makes apologies for the cops.

“I appreciate it as a business owner that they are coming out and making sure things are run right, but just make sure it’s fair across the board,” said Lithia Barber, owner of Déjà vu Billiards.

Barber, who said the raid was “kind of scary,” wondered why inspectors targeted her Burbank Drive business and overlooked other nearby nightclubs.

The SWAT team members came into the club wearing masks and carrying rifles, locking the door behind them, Barber said.

Oh, just masks and rifles? Well, I guess they have to “make sure everything is run right.” Hard to imagine they can do that with just masks and rifles and not actively kicking every patron of your establishment in the face, followed by cavity searches.

While Barber questioned the use of the SWAT team, she did say she supports the inspections and would welcome more of them.

The inspection only took 20 to 30 minutes and was not that much of a disruption, she said.

“We ended up having a really good night that night,” she said.

Presumably, by “we,” she means her cash registers still turned a profit, and doesn’t mean that her customers “had a really good night” as armed cops with masks locked the door behind them and searched through everything. Hey, what’s 20 or 30 minutes when you’re a paying customer looking to shoot some pool with friends?

The article goes on to say that our Mayor has promised to “keep conducting the surprise inspections for as long as they are necessary.” Oh. OK. Since they were so necessary before.

“We will continue doing them and probably be pretty aggressive until the message gets out there,” he said.

And what is that message? For me, it’s a good reminder of why I don’t go out and spend money in my hometown.

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