Forcing a troublesome nightclub to close seems an obvious way to eliminate all the disruptions and violence associated with that club. But does that action solve the problem or simply move it somewhere else?
At least one city commissioner recently supported revoking the liquor license for Club Magic, 804 W. 24th St., after a shooting victim ran his car into a police car near the club’s parking lot. The shooting occurred several blocks away, but it happened on the same night that security guards disarmed a man who was brandishing a gun at the bar. Even though it’s unclear whether the club was connected to the shooting incident, it was a little too much negative attention for local officials to ignore.
That was especially true because Club Magic is only the latest of a string of clubs at the location, including several that were the site of violent attacks and license revocation actions. The current owner took over the club about a year ago and says he is trying to make changes that will make Club Magic safer and more attractive to a broad clientele.
The new owner probably deserves a chance to reform the club, but it’s tricky to know how long to give someone to make meaningful changes. Club Magic is looking at a variety of strategies, such as closing the club earlier, not allowing patrons under 21 in the door and upgrading its security force. The new management also is considering changing the type of music played at Club Magic and get away from the hip-hop and rap acts that some observers say may attract a rowdy, angry crowd.
Liquor licenses are issued by the state, but city officials can recommend that a license be revoked for a troublesome club. There certainly are cases — Lawrence has had several in recent years — in which that action is warranted. But, then what? It seems unlikely that the people causing the trouble, whether they come from Lawrence, Topeka, Kansas City or elsewhere, are simply going to stay home and watch TV. They’re going to find another club at which to congregate.
Closing troublesome clubs is sort of like playing “Whac-A-Mole.” You pound down one problem venue just to see the same problem pop up somewhere else.
Perhaps the most effective strategy is strong, simple law enforcement. Maybe Lawrence officers could offer to pitch in and help a club check IDs and maybe look for outstanding warrants while they’re at it. It’s true that such activity takes officers away from other duties, but it could have a significant effect on community safety. It also might do more to deter violence at local clubs than simply closing one club and allowing its troublesome patrons to move somewhere else.
Lawrence is a college town, and as such, probably has more nightclubs than many cities of similar size. That doesn’t mean the city should tolerate lax enforcement related to state liquor laws or violent incidents. Closing Club Magic may be the best action, but city officials shouldn’t assume that action alone will eliminate the problem.