War and Peace

Among the decorations at the Bishop Arts District peace festival was a sign outside Hunky's burger joint reading, "War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing!" Perhaps the district folks should contemplate the Temptations' Motown refrain.

The September 16 event meant to celebrate World Peace Day prompted clashes over street closures, verbal confrontations over noise and even a racist threat.

The tension began in the days leading up to the block party as merchants and organizers argued over the festival layout and street closures. Cosmo Rouge owner Stephen Stroud worried that closing Bishop Street would interfere with his restaurant's business. After a flurry of phone calls between Stroud, event organizers and city personnel, fewer blocks were closed off than originally planned.

"This was all in the last 48 hours," said David Spence, one of the merchants who arranged the permit. "Meanwhile, we had 50 booths set to be in the middle of the street. All those people had paid. We did three layouts for the stage. It was just kind of crazy and stressful."

At 4:30 a.m. the day of the festival, the squabble took a more sinister turn. Stroud told police that someone appeared outside the restaurant and prepared to throw a rock through the front window. When Stroud turned on an interior light, the man dropped the rock and ran. Attached to it was a typed note that read, "We have the permit nigger, go back to Brooklyn's Jazz Club."

Stroud, who opened Cosmo Rouge in 2005, told police he felt people were trying to push him out of the arts district.

As the festival began Saturday afternoon, the friction was unknown to most of the people who strolled the streets, but soon, festivalgoers began to complain that Cosmo Rouge was blasting rap music across from the street stage.

"It was so loud it drowned out the musicians," says Kim Sparks, who went to Bishop Avenue to hear the flamenco band. "They ruined it." She went into the restaurant and requested that the music, which was playing on speakers outside as well as inside, be turned off. She was refused, she says.

Sparks wasn't the only one to complain. In the police report, the officer noted that while she talked with Stroud, they were approached "by five unknown individuals who rudely interrupted our conversation and told [Stroud] to turn off his outside music."

Two weeks later, there is a perception in the neighborhood that Stroud tried to thwart the festival. A shop owner who asked not to be identified says Stroud retaliated for the street closures by disrupting the event.

Stroud says otherwise. "I'm a major supporter of the peace festival," he says. The restaurant had been leased for a private birthday party, and when people complained about the music, the attendants "felt violated," he said.

The irony of a peace festival begetting so much conflict didn't escape Spence.

Of the racial epithet, he said, "Not only is this an awful thing--it's something you can imagine happening at a festival in West Texas or Midlothian, but Bishop Arts District? We've got Asians, Afro-Americans, gays, straights. We're often held up by the city as a real success in diverse ownership."

 
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