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Stop Busting DIY Arts Venues And Start Encouraging Them

Photo: Illustrations by Tom Chalkley, License: N/A

Illustrations by Tom Chalkley

While people murdered each other and shot each other nonfatally and robbed and stole and went homeless and without shoes and needed help, on several occasions, Baltimore police officers, acting in concert and in large numbers, busted up parties.

Parties that were happening inside buildings that were not registered as nightclubs nor as residences. Parties that featured—or were about to feature—bands and/or DJs or rappers.

Parties for which some would-be patrons ponied up $5.

For forever, people have rented big spaces, arranged for entertainment, and charged cash money for admittance to defray expenses or hustle up some dough. And it’s illegal, because licensed bar owners consider every person awake after midnight to be their customer or some such.

But why and how these parties became a police matter this summer—and a matter for cops in riot gear to investigate, interrogate, and, in a couple of cases, incarcerate—remains a mystery. Allegedly, cops on patrol saw things, such as people standing in public, which caused the response.

But that’s not credible. The busts of events at America, the Annex, the Broom Factory Factory (twice), and the former Coward Shoe (aka Summa) this year were clearly planned and coordinated in advance. They were not prompted by noise or other complaints from citizens. Police were not stopping or preventing violence; they were causing violence.

And they are harming one of Baltimore’s most undervalued cultural assets. Absent these venues, this is not a town where small-scale shows can happen easily, giving artists a stepping stone to bigger things and fans a chance to see what’s up-and-coming. But it is a town that needs those venues, both for its cultural capital today and for building what could come tomorrow.

To be sure, not every venue or every show is administered with perfect safety or professionalism. But that is a call for city officials—at Housing Code Enforcement, zoning, and the Office of Promotion and the Arts—to reach out to the makers of this scene and help them make their shows and venues safe. This should be done repeatedly and generously before any cops are called in.

City police never gave City Paper an honest answer about the crackdown on these spaces (it never even explained why the cops hired to provide security at one show turned tail when the raid came). This left the field open to speculation about racial animosity and petty jealousy by bar owners. But whatever. It’s a new year.

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