Smile Politely

On race and Wednesday’s incident at Canopy Club

We need to talk about how we talk about violence in this community. Multiple shootings over recent weeks no doubt has tensions high and local law enforcement justifiably doesn’t have a great reputation amongst minorities in town. This is certainly a nationwide problem, but we have a chance to set a positive example in the Champaign-Urbana area.

Part of the way that example is going to be set is by adjusting how the media covers certain events. Tuesday night there was an incident at the Canopy Club. Of course, details are vague in the wake of what occurred, but according to two pieces published by the News-Gazette there were fights and a possible gunshot.

There’s no excuse for that kind of behavior at any show. Period. Truthfully, there’s not a good reason to get into any sort of altercation whether it be at a coffee shop or otherwise. The act of shooting a gun near a crowd is as indefensible as it gets.

After making those qualifications (which should be obvious to anyone with a brain), we have to understand that sometimes fights do happen. They happen at bars and clubs throughout the world. It’s a sad side-effect of how liquor affects the human brain. When egos and alcohol are involved inevitably there’s a boiling point.

It appears, without firsthand knowledge of course, that last night at Canopy Club an incident occurred. Unfortunately, it occurred at a hip hop show and thus the narrative of rowdy hip hop crowds was once again brought forth by antiquated local media and the police.

What was reported in this News-Gazette piece last night was that a gunshot went off amongst a number of brawls:

Urbana police Sgt. Dan Morgan said chaos erupted at the Canopy Club, 708 S. Goodwin Ave., shortly after midnight.

“While the Canopy Club was closing down, 200 or more people were coming out. In the wake of the departures several fights broke out inside and outside in the vicinity of the building,” he said.

Something being described as chaos is, no doubt, a bad thing and I’m sure that officers responding to the scene may be accurate describing spillover bar fights as such.

The problem is when things like this are said by authority figures:

“We just know whenever there’s a rap concert at the Canopy, we’re going to have problems after,” he said.

And when this is reported by the news:

Officers were already there “preemptively” to keep order.

This is blatant stereotyping. There’s no other way around it. Hip hop crowds are typically African-American and when authority figures say that “whenever there’s a rap concert” they’re really saying “whenever black people get together.”

Instead of treating any incidents that happen at bars and restaurants and shows as separate incidents, the authority figures in this area are linking them together by a particular style of music and to a larger extent, a particular type of person.

Reading this after the fact reflects negatively on the performers as well. Lil Bibby, Klevah and Km Tha Original are afterthoughts in this sense. Instead of artists, they become “rappers,” which somehow has some negative connotation around old white people.

The News-Gazette only spoke to the police about the incident as well. There wasn’t so much as a “no comment” from the show promoters Law Cannon or the Canopy Club and they didn’t speak to any witnesses. How can you accurately describe an incident without any eyewitness testimony?

It speaks to how out of touch our media and community leaders are with how they view race. They may not even be consciously thinking about it, but we’re not in a post-racial society. The coverage of incidents like this and how authority figures treat them are as important as anything else as we try to make our community an inclusive space.

The pre-emptive police presence at black events like hip-hop shows and the lack of respect shown to artists and attendees when incidents do occur has to end. Deal with and control problems when they present themselves instead of possibly escalating tensions by stalking the events. That’s not to say don’t be prepared for them, it’s that there’s a difference between preparation and pre-emptive presences.

The media needs to hold the authorities accountable here too. Ask proper follow-up questions, further the discussion on why this is happening, and be respectful to the community that you’re covering. The News-Gazette has that chance to further the discussion of race in this community with opinion articles and editorials, no doubt, but it’s just as important that they cover negative incidents with an open mind and an unbiased agenda.

There will always be incidents at bars and shows, it’s a fact. We’re not going to stop everything from happening, but what we can do is appropriately talk about how to deal with them. Parroting the police when they say stereotypical things is not how to do it. Let’s be better C-U.

Related Articles