TGR: Guest Editorial: Velvet Rope saddled with hefty fine, then protests for justice
By Hassan Giordano
(BALTIMORE - March 29, 2010) - On Friday, March 26, Velvet Rope nightclub got hit with some very disturbing news, they must pay a hefty fine of $3,500. Yet two hours later, supporters of the establishment protested outside the Downtown Partnership in search of fairness, justice and business equality!
Having to appear earlier in the afternoon before the (3)-member Baltimore City Liquor Board, in regards to multiple violations stemming from previous incidents at the establishment; Tracye Stafford, represented by attorney Paul Gardner, received a tremendously severe fine by the Board while escaping a suspension of their liquor license. The isolated and separate incidents garnered mass media attention which revealed an apparent targeting of this establishment by the Baltimore City Police Department, Downtown Partnership and near-by neighboring hotels.
Leading up to today’s case, many in the black entertainment industry in Baltimore were feeling angst towards a process that has consistently alienated and abused their efforts to ‘party in peace’. Rendering a guilty verdict, liquor board chairman Stephen Fogleman handed down a steep fine of $5,000 while warning the defendants of further incidents at the club. Mr. Gardner argued the merits of such a fine referring to previous incidents by other establishments that got fines dramatically lower than the one being offered his client.
After conferring with the other members of the Board they came to the conclusion that based off the guidelines under Article 2B of the annotated code of Maryland, a first time violation can get a $500 fine, with the second offense receiving a $3,000 fine. Combining both violations that were heard today, they decided to add them together which came to the $3,500 decision. However one must question, where did the original $5,000 offer come from if the maximum amount was that of $3,500? After further deliberations, the owners of the club were given (90) days to pay this penalty or face further action.
Concluding the hearing, the Board gave the Downtown Partnership, and community businesses surrounding the establishment, the opportunity to offer a statement ‘off the record.’ A DP representative spoke to how they are offended by the actions of patrons from this establishment, however gave a very broadly stroked statement that had many questioning as to how they know exactly who is committing these indecent acts, outside the club, with so many other nightlife establishments in the area?
Also of note is that the Board did not give the same opportunity to persons there supporting the Velvet Rope to offer their statement. Afterward, I spoke briefly with Ms. Stafford who when asked about how she felt about the Board’s decision simply stated that “it is what it is; we are grateful that we are still in business however this is Baltimore so what do you expect?!”
However, in a little over two hours close to 100 supporters; business owners, promoters, community activists and club patrons, joined by former state senator Larry Young and the President of the Baltimore City branch NAACP Marvin ‘Doc’ Cheatham, rallied and picketed outside the Downtown Partnership’s office on Charles St.
With signs and bullhorns, men and women from across this City protested the unfair practices of the DP, shouting chants such as ‘Downtown Partnership who is your real partner’; ‘DP how many blacks are on your board’ and ‘what do we want, change; when do we want it, now’! As on-lookers cheered the protest, DP administrators watched from the windows in their office, not offering a word as to where they stand, what could be done to change such practices while also declining a meeting with Ms. Stafford and club promoters.
One protester asked the question of “how can these black establishments be unfairly targeted by DP, the BCPD and others, yet we live in a majority black city, with the top three elected officials being black themselves, yet you do not hear a peep from them? Some leaders!” Asked how they felt Velvet Rope was unfairly targeted and they stated that “it’s not just this case but many in the past that they have consistently tried to shut black businesses or patroned establishments down, while turning a blind eye and deaf ear to consistently rowdy and equally disturbing white bars and clubs.”
Speaking with one white attorney who previously represented clients before the liquor board in the past, she stated that “though the fine in her opinion was not out of the norm and the time period to pay was similar, if not more generous, to previous decisions, it is certainly a disparity between black owned or operated establishments and white ones, in how the police and inspectors target and focus their attention on these businesses.”
I’m sure this will not be the last we hear about these angered protesters or the conduct in which these establishments are being targeted for closure.