By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
The sidewalks in front of a few clubs in particular--Palm Beach Reggae Club, Nairobi Sports Bar and Main Street Sports Bar--have been cause for much of the alarm. Few will single them out by name, but they make it clear whom they're talking about. This is where the problem becomes even more complicated: All of these clubs have a predominantly black clientele.
"You really can't say anything, because as soon as you do, they pull the race card on you," says one club owner. "It's not the point that we don't want them down there. The point is that they don't go in anywhere. They just hang on the streets, and they give the girls a hard time walking to their cars."
Comedian Chris Rock had a joke in his stand-up routine once, a staple of his act for a time. It even showed up in his 1997 book Rock This! "Ever notice how every city has two malls? The white mall, and the mall the white people used to go to. That mall must be something awful to actually keep white people from going. 'It's too black in here.' White people like black people the way they like their seasoning: just a dash."
"It's too black in here." This is the real reason behind the recent problems, some say. The increasing number of black faces in the neighborhood scares the white business owners.
"Although I know that some teen-agers have the tendency to get into trouble, you just can't single out one race, no matter how intimidating they may be to you," says Pikahsso, a local rapper who hangs out in Deep Ellum. "Because it's some white teen-agers, Hispanic, Arabic or whatever getting into the same mischief that the police allocate 90 percent of their time watching the African-American teen-agers for."
It can certainly appear that way some nights, especially since most of the police activity after 1 a.m. is focused on Main Street, where Palm Beach, Nairobi and, obviously, Main Street Sports Bar are located. But if you pay attention, it's not just because that's where all of the black faces are. That's where everyone winds up around the time the clubs and bars start closing--black, white, Hispanic, Arabic or whatever. Which means that's where most of the potential trouble is, too.
"When they hang out there, that's when the problem starts," Texas Proforce's Deal says. "Either the people who are sitting there will start saying something to the passers-by, or the passers-by will say something to them. But it winds up eventually causing a little bit of a problem."
One African-American employee at Nairobi Sports Bar doesn't mind the attention from the police. He wouldn't even mind a little more. Fourteen, 15 cops? That's not enough for a Saturday night, he says. The kids on the street are as bad for their business as they are for anyone else. Maybe even more. "It just makes the clubs look bad," he says, taking a long drag on his cigarette. That's why on weekends, he adds, the bar tries to be strictly 21 and up. "The youngsters are just looking to have a good time," he says, eyeing the street, "or cause trouble." The bar doesn't want any potential troublemakers pointing their fingers back at Nairobi's door. They just want a good crowd.
Everyone wants that. If you could assign the problem in Deep Ellum a color, it wouldn't be black or white; it would be green. The fights, the harassment, the crime--these are problems that make it difficult for everyone to do business. The police scrutiny on Main Street's clubs doesn't bother Augustine Ekukpe, owner of Palm Beach. He just wants those problems to go away.
"There was a time when the skinhead was doing the same thing that a lot of African-Americans are doing right now," Ekukpe explains. "Of course, the city of Dallas took care of it. I don't know how they did it. Then after that, the Spanish people took over. That's almost a year or so ago. The city system, I don't know how they did it, they took care of it. Now, it's the African-Americans who are predominantly here right now. So I think they have to use the same system on everybody."
Well, maybe one.
On July 26, Miller went to the Curtain Club to see a band, have a few beers. A normal Saturday night for him. By the time he started walking back to his car, the streets were teeming. "It was packed," he remembers, "like it was a fair or a riot, just shoulder-to-shoulder people."
As he tried to squeeze his car out of the parking lot, a man calmly walked up, reached through his open window and grabbed a camera lying in the front seat. Watching the man run down the street, Miller knew he should cut his losses, chalk it up to bad luck and go home. "Man, if I leave my car, it's gonna be bad news," he thought to himself. But screw it. That was his camera. "Like an idiot," he says, "I start running after him. I didn't get 10, 15 feet from my car and I just got pounded on."