Tony Newman at (212) 613-8026 or Elizabeth M
Early Sunday the 20th, a police raid on a Flint, Michigan nightclub left law-abiding patrons paying for the crimes of a few. After undercover officers bought drugs from several patrons of the club, local police decided to raid Club What’s Next at 1:40 AM, blocking the doors and handcuffing and searching club-goers. According to reports from at least two club-goers, women were stripped and subjected to full cavity searches.
The police made 17 arrests on felony drug charges and at least one hundred more, in which, in most cases, the individuals’ only offense was “frequenting a drug establishment,” a misdemeanor offense that will go on their record. People who simply came out to dance, and were searched and not found in possession of any drugs, now face 90 days in jail and a $500 fine. They also face a criminal record with all the legal and social barriers that brings. Those charged with “frequenting a drug establishment” include a DJ hired to spin records at the club and the owner of a record company – both of whom were strip searched and not found in possession of any drugs.
“This is abuse of police power pure and simple,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. “It’s un-American to punish people for the crimes of others.”
According to news reports, a similar raid occurred in Flint in 1999. About 80 people were arrested that year at a party. Seven people in attendance were charged with drug possession, and police wrote about 80 tickets for “frequenting a drug establishment.”
The controversial raid of Club What’s Next is also similar to a 2002 incident in Racine, Wisconsin. In that case, hundreds of music fans were also ticketed for being in a nightclub where a few people used drugs. Those ticketed had no drugs on them and the police did not have any evidence that they had ever used drugs. Their only offense was dancing at a nightclub where other people who used drugs were arrested. Although only three drug arrests were made, police issued citations to 445 innocent attendees with a penalty of $968 each for being “patrons of a disorderly house.” The Drug Policy Alliance launched a nationwide grassroots campaign to raise awareness of the Racine raid and the local ACLU filed a lawsuit. The charges were eventually dropped.
Now, the Drug Policy Alliance is working to get music fans locally and around the country to contact the Flint city council and mayor. In the first twelve hours of the campaign, 1700 people have taken action. “Every voter in Flint, Michigan should realize that this could happen to them,” said Bill Piper. “Imagine you’re having a beer at your favorite bar and the police come in and arrest you and everyone else in the bar because unknown to you someone is using drugs in the bathroom. It’s outrageous.”