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D.C. Police Blame Go-Go For Violence at NW Club

By Lori Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 20, 2005; Page C01

A D.C. police commander testified yesterday that go-go music, the District's homegrown version of funk, is a magnet for violence and urged the city's alcohol control board to shut down a go-go nightclub operating in a government building in the heart of the U Street commercial strip.

"It's this go-go," Cmdr. Larry D. McCoy of the 3rd Police District told the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. "If you have a black-tie event, you don't have any problem. But if you bring go-go in, you're going to have problems."

Council member Jim Graham wants Club U at the Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center closed. (Robert A. Reeder -- The Washington Post)

McCoy's statement drew a low groan from the audience that had gathered in a boardroom on North Capitol Street for an emergency hearing to determine whether the nightspot, known as Club U, would be allowed to reopen or would lose its liquor license permanently.

On Monday, the board summarily suspended the club's license in the wake of several violent incidents Feb. 13, when one club patron was beaten, another was fatally stabbed and paramedics were shot at when they arrived to help, according to the control board's charging document.

"I'm 39 years old. I'm a human resources manager. I'm a PTA president. I'm an ANC commissioner. And I prefer go-go music," said Cherita Whiting, a frequent Club U patron who attended the hearing. Whiting said city officials are targeting the club unfairly because it attracts "younger African Americans."

Board members listened to testimony yesterday from a long parade of witnesses who alternately excoriated and defended the club, which is in the Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center at 14th and U streets NW. The club operates as a cafeteria for District government employees during the day and as a nightclub Thursday and Saturday nights.

Although it has existed for more than two decades, the club's owners, Warren C. Williams Sr. and Warren C. Williams Jr., recently agreed to vacate the space by January 2007 under pressure from District officials.

Late yesterday, the board had not heard the testimony of most of the witnesses, so it decided to reconvene Friday to complete the case. Under District law, the board has 24 hours from the close of testimony to make a decision.

Prosecutors from the office of the D.C. attorney general have asked the board to revoke the club's license permanently, citing a list of violent offenses in or near the club since March 2003, including three homicides, two stabbings and at least two assaults on police officers.

City Administrator Robert C. Bobb and Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) also have recommended that the club be closed. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) and a host of community activists showed up at yesterday's hearing to echo that sentiment.

"The overwhelming feeling in the neighborhood is that this facility should be closed," said Dee Hunter, a Ward 1 advisory neighborhood commissioner. "With three murders in three years, there is no one within 10 blocks of that facility who doesn't want it shut down."

David Wilmot, an attorney for the club owners, argued that Club U is being targeted unfairly because Graham and other city officials have long sought to evict the club from government property. Wilmot said police investigators have determined that club patrons were not involved in as many as half of the 10 criminal incidents cited by prosecutors. Instead, he said, the club owners are dealing with spillover violence from "an open-air drug market" a few blocks away.

"It's unfortunate that young men and women are being slaughtered on our streets. But Club U didn't create that," Wilmot told the board. "To take this license away without looking at what truly ails this community would serve an injustice on people who have invested their life savings in this business."

Outside the hearing room, Wilmot said the notion that music causes violence is just silly.

"Go-go is endemic to Washington. That's Washington music," he said. "You close the club, you think the kids are not going to go someplace else?"

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