Government policies harm rave and club scene

In May 2001, two events spaced 10 days apart effectively framed the status of the U.S. government’s attitude toward the burgeoning American rave and club scene.

On May 7, New York City police shut down legendary night club Twilo amid allegations of illegal drug use, overdoses and the owners’ operation of the club without proper permits.

On May 17, the U.S. government reached a plea agreement with New Orleans rave promoters Robert and Brian Brunet, who had been prosecuted under the obscure federal “”crack house law.”” This was the first instance in which the law was applied to a concert venue — the State Palace Theater in New Orleans, where the defendants were promoting a rave. Its application targeted the promoters of events where illegal drug use may have occurred, the determination for which was made from an assessment of the presence of items such as pacifiers and glow sticks.

New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s battle to shut down Twilo and other city night spots has been going strong for at least two years, say sources in his administration.

This targeting, and what is almost certainly a misapplication of the crack house law, point to a disturbing government trend: As the rave and club scene has grown more popular in the United States, the government has responded to what it perceives as a threat with the use of strong-armed and often questionable legal tactics.

The government’s insistence that it continue to fight its fruitless “”War on Drugs”” has had consequences for activities in the dance music community that would not otherwise have been a concern.

Government officials, eager to thwart even the possibility of creation of zones where drug use might occur, have persisted in shutting down dance festivals and clubs. To throw a party has become a criminal activity: The law thwarts organizers at every turn, denying them the permits and cooperation necessary to hold a safe and legal event. This mentality led to the prosecution of the Brunet brothers under the crack house law.

The Electronic Music Defense & Education Fund monitors government crackdown on dance events and their promoters and assists them in legal battles. It quoted law professor Glenn Reynolds of the University of Tennessee, whose interpretation was that “”the crack house law was directed at people who took over abandoned buildings by force of arms and used them as headquarters for drug dealing.””

The application of the law in the Brunet case is far different. The government based its case on Drug Enforcement Agency surveillance videotape from an event held at the State Palace Theater, in which people were filmed using glow sticks, pacifiers and Vicks VapoRub masks. These items, the prosecutors alleged, were evidence that the promoters were allowing drug use in defiance of the law.

The logical jump that prosecutors made to arrive at that conclusion is staggering. Once everyday items can be taken as evidence for drug use, the government has gone too far in flexing its authority. This does not even consider, of course, that the crack house law was likely misapplied in the first place to serve the interests of the DEA.

The government’s zeal in persecuting dance culture will only result in more dangerous, expensive and lower-quality events for the majority of clubgoers who truly love the music.

Events are frequently canceled before they can even get off the ground due to government stonewalling.

The cancellation of British club Cream’s massive “”Creamfields”” events — one in New York, one in Las Vegas — are believed to have come about in part due to the organizers’ inability to secure permits from paranoid and government-intimidated property holders.

UCSD’s DJs and Vinylphiles Club has been subject to similar suspicion from campus administrators. After 2000’s wildly successful “”Movement”” event, the administration clamped down on the club, limiting the number of people at any event and all but restricting attendees to UCSD students.

Of course, those who have the most to lose in this battle are those caught in the tug-of-war between the government and event organizers — the clubbers and ravers who populate events.

Before its shutdown, Twilo’s management had contracted a private ambulance company to aid in medical emergencies at the club. It did so because 911 calls from a night club — for whatever reason — can be used against a club’s management as evidence for a disorderly conduct violation.

In a controversial moment for the New York Police Department, “”New York Magazine”” reported that NYPD officers blocked a privately contracted ambulance from leaving Twilo last April until the officers could obtain information about a victim inside. According to some reports, the officers then allowed a New York Daily News photographer access to the ambulance before it could depart for the hospital.

It’s still unclear how much the government is going to be able to get away with in the realm of dance culture crackdowns. It appears that prosecutors are willing to take the most liberal — and perhaps unconstitutional — view of the law to achieve their ends.

Without education and vigilant resistance to these actions, those who love the music may have an increasingly difficult time finding it.

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