Police Chief Bryan Norwood had heard enough. About a half-hour into a meeting between the Richmond Police Department's top brass and several nightclub owners last week, Norwood kicked everyone out.
“The meeting lasted 30 minutes and we thought it [would] last an hour or more,” says Charles Willis, executive director of Citizens Against Crime, who attended the gathering at police headquarters July 8. “The chief shut it down.”
In the wake of nightclub-related violence in the spring, urban club owners have grown increasingly frustrated by what some say is a political overreaction — including a new dance-hall ordinance and increased police presence in Shockoe Bottom — that unfairly targets clubs catering to largely black patrons.
The meeting between the police chief and about 10 club owners, including representatives from Have a Nice Day CafAc, Aurora, Club 534 and Godfreys, was intended to open a dialogue, Willis says. It turned into a heated exchange that ended with Norwood booting everyone out the door.
“The chief had his own agenda, his own format set,” Willis says. “The meeting ended and we never got around to talking about the dance-hall ordinance.”
According to people who attended the meeting, Norwood cut it short after Nat Dance, owner of Club 534 on Harrison Street near Virginia Commonwealth University, began questioning the tactics of on- and off-duty police officers. He also inquired about an incident in which he was allegedly assaulted by Richmond police officer, which apparently didn't sit well with Norwood. Dance also pointed out that police officers sometimes miss key signals that something's going down — like a club hopper running for his car, only to show up later with a gun.
“Let's talk about every incident and see what went wrong and how it can be fixed,” Dance says, still frustrated that the meeting ended abruptly. “Let's end this once and for all and talk about the issues that are really going on.”
Increasing tension between authorities and club owners appears to run counter to the stated goals of Mayor Dwight Jones' administration. In response to questions about a proposed dance-hall ordinance, which would force club operators to hire more security officers and requires a uniformed police officer to be stationed outside, city spokesman Mike Wallace says “police presence is huge in [foreseeing] problematic situations and deterring crime before it happens.”
Sources say the club owners were encouraged by the administration's deputy chief of staff, Jeffrey Bourne, to meet with the police chief and voice their concerns.
Richmond police spokesman Gene Lepley says he was unaware that Norwood kicked the club owners from headquarters. But the Police Department saw the meeting as constructive and has already implemented some of the club owners' “good suggestions,” Lepley says. He declines to give specifics.
“They plan to hold another meeting,” Lepley says, “but nothing's been scheduled.”