I'm absolutely sick of hearing about racism in the Indianapolis club scene, and the last thing I want to do is turn this column into a weekly rant about issues of race. But as a nightlife and culture writer, I can't ignore the subject while black artists and promoters are being unfairly treated in my city.
And that's exactly what happened on July 21 when Fox 59 aired a news piece suggesting that racy club flyers featuring images of Beyonce and bikini clad women were directly related to recent episodes of violence in the Broad Ripple neighborhood. The DJ in question, DJ Cash, lost his job over the station's investigation, even though his event flyers featured no reference to violence or any illegal activities. DJ Cash is black.
A few days later, a story appeared in the Indiana Business Journal detailing a federal court case filed by Anies Alfayyad, the owner of Broad Ripple nightclub Bleecker Street. The IBJ reports the club's owner alleges that the building's landlords doubled their rent to force Bleecker Street (which has primarily black patrons) out of Broad Ripple. Per the IBJ story, Alfayaad's lawsuit claims the building's landlords used the terms "ghetto" and "those types of people" when describing Bleecker Street's clientele, and told Alfayaad he needed "to get rid of these people." The story also cited a rejected lease agreement offered to Bleecker Street's owner which forbid the nightclub from playing hip-hop music and employing DJs. (NUVO was unable to reach Alfayaad for comment.)
I was recently looking through NUVO's archive for stories on this topic. I found a 2003 piece titled "Blacks in Broad Ripple - Is there racial discrimination?" I found a quote from IMPD officer Kendale Adams particularly interesting from that piece. After strongly stating that he believed black patrons were being unfairly targeted, Adams said Broad Ripple "bar owners do not want that type of element when you get a lot of black people in the same place, they [club owners] get concerned." Sadly, it seems the neighborhood has made no progress in breaking down racial tensions and stereotypes since this story was published over ten years ago.
From what I've read, public officials and community leaders in Broad Ripple insist their response to recent episodes of violence is not racially motivated. It's about behavior, they say.
So, would they come down with equal force if white patrons were seen to be destabilizing the neighborhood?
Let's look back to 2011 for an example. In November of that year a group (whose leader has alleged ties to white supremacy organizations) announced an "Occupy Broad Ripple With Guns" rally. The event called for crews of gun-packing citizens to patrol Broad Ripple's nightlife scene. A November 28 Channel 6 news report stated members of the group were also disseminating racially inflammatory publicity materials, which, according to one eyewitness testimony, called for "a noose for Mexicans and African-Americans." The group disputed via Facebook that they had disseminated the material.
That sounds a lot like terrorism to me. But did the threat of gun-toting white supremacists provoke a public response from someone like Indianapolis Homeland Security chief Gary Coons? No, but Coons appeared eager to lend his condemnations of DJ Cash's "racy" fliers to Fox 59's questionable report.
As Indy grapples with issues of crime and violence in our communities we need to measure our responses carefully. Vilifying innocent black entertainers and club patrons is clearly not the answer.
A Cultural Manifesto is now available on WFYI's HD2 radio. Tune in Wednesdays at 7pm and Saturdays at 3pm as NUVO's Kyle Long explores the merging of a wide variety of music from around the globe with American genres like hip-hop, jazz, and soul.