Police criticized over use of padlock powers
Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III this morning took on concerns about the department's recent use of its padlocking powers on clubs and businesses, including addressing claims that it is unfairly used to target black-owned businesses.
Appearing on former state senator Larry Young's show on WOLB, Bealefeld said that police are not keeping a list of places to target, but react to incidents of violence and concerns from the community. "Every place that we've ever used the padlock, we've been engaged for weeks, months, sometimes years to remediate the types of things that go on there," Bealefeld said. "There are a series of meetings ... to try to resolve the problems before we even get the padlock."
The issue has been pushed to the forefront as the police department has sought a liquor license revocation for the downtown club the Velvet Rope, which is owned by Baltimore hip hop impresario Tracye Stafford and has attracted celebrities and well-known acts to downtown. But police say it has also been linked to several incidents of violence in recent weeks, including a shooting and a near-riot after the club oversold tickets to a show, and needs to be shut down.
Owners of a liquor store that was padlocked - and which has since re-opened - are challenging the legality of the statute in the state courts. (The owners of the liquor store, for the record, are of Asian descent).
Young's show this morning was set up with an audience so people could directly question Bealefeld. One woman said there were two other downtown clubs that had experienced a slew of problems, including dancefloor stabbings and nudity and liquor license violations.
"Both [clubs] are not black-owned. I know downtown is interested in gentrification and wants to clear us out - I mean, I don't want to make it a racial thing, but it is," the woman said.
A caller then reiterated the point. "I know there's been incidents at other clubs, and none of these other clubs have been threatened or tried to been padlocked. It seems our club is being targeted. It's just not fair."
Bealefeld said the reason those other businesses remain open is because they have been working with police. "We have historic problems at other clubs, and have relationships where we can work to make them safer," he said. "Where we don't have relationships, where the club owners and promoters are not working with us to make people safe, we're left with no other option.
"The proof is in your own assessment: these clubs aren't out of business. To link it to anything other than public safety is really a smoke screen."
Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi told me after the show that the police department has padlocked seven establishments, five of which were only temporary, including liquor stores and a motel. He noted that only three of them were black-owned businesses. Two of the highest-profile closings did involve black ownership, including the Suites Ultralounge in Mount Vernon, which was linked to a slew of unprovoked attacks in that neighborhood, and Club 410, whose manager was later indicted and accused of being involved with the Black Guerrilla Family gang.
Another person, who identified herself as being from the Greater Baltimore Black Chamber of Commerce, said police efforts to pre-empt violence sometimes go overboard. She compared some incidents to scenes out of the 1960s. Another man spoke more broadly about challenges black business owners and hip-hop themed shows face, equating the makeup of businesses at Power Plant Live to apartheid.
Bealefeld said people need to make clear that they will not tolerate violence. "Tell hooligans not to come to the clubs, because the people who come to the clubs just want to have a good time. Tell people who want to bring guns and knives on the dancefloor, we don't want you in the city."