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Monday, March 23, 2009

Club Owner Claims OPD Shakedown of Black Nightlife

Posted By on Mon, Mar 23, 2009 at 7:00 AM

Too Short performing at Geoffrey's Inner Circle
  • Too Short performing at Geoffrey's Inner Circle

Last week, Geoffrey Pete--long a well-respected figure in Oakland's African-American community, and the owner of Geoffrey's Inner Circle nightclub--held a press conference outside Oakland City Hall to announce he's considering filing a complaint against the OPD for unlawful harassment.

Pete has previously raised allegations that OPD and former mayor Jerry Brown instituted a crackdown on Oakland's African-American clubs in the downtown area--which happened to coincide with Brown's plan to bring 10,000 new residents to the city and a surge of development. On Tuesday, he charged the police with "extortion practices as it relates to the closing of my establishment" and threatened a lawsuit unless mediation occurs.

As reported on the front page of the Oakland Post  (both the Chron and the Trib neglected to cover the press conference), Pete claims that OPD gave "false information" to the manager of a parking garage the nightclub used, which led to the cancellation of Pete's contract, and refused to allow him to hold an event at Sweet's Ballroom unless 18 police officers were hired to provide security, at a cost of $7,600 (OPD later dropped the number of officers needed to six, which Pete also refused to pay for, and the party was shut down when officers blocked the entrance).

Pete went on to note that, while many African American nightclubs in and around the downtown area have been closed in the past few years, the city provided a subsidy to the recently reopened concert venue the Fox Theatre, a pet project of Brown and developer Phil Tagami. As the Trib wrote back in January, "Geoffrey's is the latest of downtown clubs catering to a largely black clientele that have closed in recent years, following Zazoo's on the Embarcadero, @Seventeenth on 17th Street, Sweet Jimmie's on San Pablo Avenue, Mingles and Simone's on the Embarcadero, and Bluesville and On Broadway on Broadway."

However, it's worth noting that many of those black-owned clubs, including Mingles and At Seventeenth, were closed in the immediate aftermath of violent incidents--including several shootings--and in the case of Geoffrey's, the police rancor evidently revolved around First Saturdays, a monthly event which drew a younger, hyphyier, less bougie crowd, hundreds of which spilled out into the street at closing time, creating crowd control issues. It's also worth noting that the Fox is technically not a nightclub, but a live music venue.

Still, it's not surprising that Pete would play the race card--he is the vice president of Oakland's Black Caucus, after all--and the issue over black clubs and police overtime costs has been going on since at least 1999. 

So, is this a public safety issue or a clear-cut case of discriminatory extortion? We'll have to wait for the lawsuit to find out.

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Eric Arnold

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