CARBONDALE — After an all-ages hip-hop show was broken up by Carbondale police officers last month, Miles Davis, who runs Autopsy Sound, on Monday told the city's Human Relations Commission he is concerned about the incident.
Davis, a 24-year-old black business owner, told the HRC about previous concerts he has had at his Autopsy store front — ones the city seemed to know about — that did not get much attention.
CARBONDALE — Things were stopped before they even got started Friday at Autopsy in Carbondale.
However, on Jan. 25, after an article ran in The Southern about him and his business enterprise, something changed. That night, police officers came, Davis said, and asked him a lot of questions: Are you selling alcohol? Do you have a license?
The answer to both was “no.” In turn, the police shut him down. He said it seemed like they were searching for any reason to shut the show down before landing on the licensing issue.
Davis said he and his mother — who was collecting cover charge at the door — asked about a citation instead. The officers who responded told them that a citation could prevent Davis from getting an entertainment license in the future.
However, Davis said City Manager Gary Williams told him that’s not the case.
Davis said he was deeply embarrassed having to hand out refunds to kids, and wait with them for their parents to come pick them up. He said he’s not sure if he’ll be able to regain the trust of the kids or their parents to keep the venue moving forward.
Davis went on to tell the HRC that over that weekend, Williams and Building and Neighborhood Services Supervisor John Lenzini came to apologize.
“I’ve never heard of that happening before,” Jerrold Hennrich, chairman of the HRC, said.
Davis said Williams apologized because he had asked the police chief in a phone call not to shut the show down, saying that they would handle it another way. However, communication broke down.
A series of emails obtained by The Southern through the Freedom of Information Act show some of the behind-the-scenes conversation.
Police Chief Jeff Grubbs emailed Williams and City Attorney Jamie Snyder on Jan. 24, pointing out The Southern’s profile of Davis.
“We are not opposed to what the operator indicates his plan is in the article,” Grubbs wrote. However, he said Davis would be operating without the proper license. Grubbs asked the two officials how to proceed.
“Let’s get contact information for him so we can reach out to him prior to having to initiate legal action,” Snyder wrote back at 10:07 a.m. that day.
Williams echoed that tone.
“Let’s contact him and be friendly in our notification that he needs to be approved as an entertainment club,” Williams said. “Sounds like what he is doing is well intended. His mom is even working the door.”
Williams later replied saying he had spoken to Lenzini, who said he knew Davis. He planned to reach out to him. Lenzini previously told The Southern that he had left his business card in Davis’ door.
Davis told the HRC he spoke with Williams on Monday and would be granted a free entertainment license, but he said he is now going to be limited as to how old his patrons are — he said Williams told him that he could have either a teen club or an 18 and up club.
However, section 5-11-4 of the city code provides a definition of a combination teen and adult club.
“It doesn’t say that anywhere,” Hennrich said after reviewing the code’s age restrictions language.
Miles Davis’ enterprise likely won’t make sense to people of a certain generation, but it makes perfect sense to him and his peers.
All who spoke in response to Davis’ story were enthusiastic about his idea.
“Kudos to you, you’ve got their attention,” Michelle Snyder said to Davis.
She went on to say that as a business owner, he should have done his research before embarking on the venture.
Father Joseph Brown agreed to a point; if the code says he needs a license, he needs one. However, he understood why Davis felt blindsided.
“Nobody said let’s walk together on it,” Brown said, adding that there are avenues that are supposed to help new business owners find themselves on the right side of city policy.
Mayoral-hopeful Nathan Colombo has long been an ally of Davis and spoke on his behalf. He pointed out what some called the “elephant in the room.”
He said he has seen many larger, predominantly white entertainment events held both at The Varsity Center and at other venues in town with a smaller police presence than what he has seen show up for Davis’ relatively small concerts.
During Lit Fest, a hip-hop showcase at The Varsity that Davis organized, Colombo said he saw a group of police officers across the street from the theater, something he’s not seen for other well-attended events there.
When staff asked why they were there, Colombo told the commission that officers said it was because of large turnout.
Davis said he’s seen similar police turnout at his previous shows.
Commissioner Dora Weaver asked the question: “Are you being racially targeted?”
Davis said he thought it could be that, but wasn’t entirely sure. He mostly just wanted the commission to hear his complaints and look further into this possibility or find out why his event and not other, similar events all over town that weekend weren’t shut down.
Colombo put it simply.
“We just want to know why,” he said. He said a direct question might be a good option for the commission.
Brown cautioned at this, saying that a reductionist approach would be best — exhaust all the other possibilities first and see “what’s leftover.” Being too blunt, Brown said, can simply shut the conversation down.
At the end of the discussion, Hennrich suggested the forming of a subcommittee, but there were no votes for the matter. So, he said they would continue to deal with the matter off the record.
— Editor's Note: This story has been updated to correctly spell Jerrold Hennrich's name.