Dennis Steffes, owner of the troubled downtown nightclub Last Call, twice has alleged the city has unfairly targeted his club for enforcement because it caters to largely a black crowd.
But leaders of two of the city's larger black organizations aren't convinced.
Donna Bell, president of the Lawrence-Douglas County Chapter of the NAACP, and Ebony Howard, president of Kansas University's Black Student Union, both said they thought any increased level of enforcement at the club was related to incidents of past violence, not issues of race.
"What is difficult with that club is that time and time again there seems to be situations involving guns," Bell said. "That's a legitimate cause of concern."
Howard was concerned that club owner Steffes was improperly injecting the serious issue of race into his club's battle to stay open.
"I'm sorry that this white club owner is playing the race card hoping that it will incite the black community," Howard said. "I've never seen him being an advocate for African-American causes before. His only involvement seems to be that he owns the Last Call."
But some members of the black community have stepped forward and echoed Steffes' allegations.
Vandom Pittman, a Topeka disc jockey who has done shows at Last Call, 729 N.H., said Steffes was being punished for operating a hip-hop dance club.
"There's a thing called fear of a black dance floor," Pittman told the director of the Alcoholic Beverage Control division during a hearing in December. "Any place there are more than 10 black people, unless it is a church, there's fear."
The city has denied any allegations that race has played a role in how it has dealt with the club.
Bell, with the NAACP, said she thought the city generally had done a good job of treating people of color fairly. She said her organization has had a "dialogue" with the Lawrence police department on a couple of specific issues, but said the city always has been an active listener.
"What I'm confident in is that the city of Lawrence is willing to make changes when there is a call for it," Bell said.
She said the NAACP had received one complaint from a patron of Last Call alleging the crowd was treated differently because of its race. But Bell said the organization needs more information to make a judgment that the club and its patrons are being treated unfairly.
"There has to be more than one person saying racism is behind this," Bell said. "But if there truly is a sense that racism is behind this, we're more than happy to take a serious look at it. But at this point, we don't have that evidence.
"What we have observed is that it is an unsafe club."