Reading between the (racial) lines about the shootings at Scene nightclub

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In my daily column, 5 things I think I think about today’s Tampa Bay Times, I broach the topic no one wants to talk about: that race is an issue in what happened at Scene nightclub early Wednesday morning.

Nowhere in the Times’ coverage of the big story of the day is the race of the two victims discussed.

Well, both victims were black.  Why does that matter? Because Tuesday night at Scene is billed as “Top Shelf Tuesday” and Tampa Bay’s largest “hip hop party.” Meaning it’s a night that Scene attracts a crowd more black than white. I also know this firsthand because I live at the Madison Condominiums, which is located about a block South of the club.  I know, as well as anyone, what really goes on at Scene.

And what’s not being discussed in the Times story, but is being discussed throughout downtown St. Pete, is that this is another situation like what happened at BayWalk, where black patrons, with few places to enjoy themselves in Midtown, converge on downtown St. Pete and end up scaring the white folk.  Again, that’s not in the newspaper, but that’s one of the underlying stories.

What I also fear is that the incident at Scene will be used as a hammer against the ordinance I helped pass which allows bars to stay open until 3 a.m., which is what sounds like is about to happen:

Downtown has thrived since the city pushed closing time back to 3 a.m. in May 2010, but keeping all those new bars safe has been a challenge. Officials say the bar corridor absorbs too much officer overtime, saps police resources and exhausts the cops who keep the alcohol-soaked crowds safe — often from each other.

But St. Petersburg’s popularity also depends on it being known as a safe nightspot. Wednesday’s shooting threatens that status.

“I am not going to sit idly by while there is a risk of the reputation to the safety of downtown St. Petersburg,” said Mayor Bill Foster. “Once you get a bad reputation, it’s hard to recover.”

Like I said, there’s a lot more to this story than what is being reported in the newspaper.

The reporter does a good job of discussing the lax attitude the club’s owners, which include Bubba the Love Sponge, have towards security.

Some clubs have their own security. Some hire off-duty officers. Scene’s owners did neither well, according to police.

“Scene has been one of our biggest challenges,” said St. Petersburg police Maj. Sharon “DeDe” Carron. “We’re trying to ensure that they have their business and at the same time we’re trying to work with them to make sure that everyone is safe.

“We’ve been disappointed by their lack of progress in addressing our concerns.”

(Police) officers reported several observations about club security: no off-duty officers were hired; patrons were being allowed in through the side doors; and a doorman told police they were told not to search patrons that night.

“It suggests a lack of due diligence on their part,” Carron said.

Where the story turns south is when the bar’s manager told the major that the extra security was keeping customers away. A man who identified himself as Fabrizi once asked officers to leave the club, police said. Scene stopped hiring off-duty officers in December, according to police, and as of last month still owed the city $2,555.59 for the officers it had hired.

It’s at that point the city and the police department should have hammered the owners and managers of Scene.  They should have camped out across the street from the club and entered the building every time the whiff of marijuana reeked from the place.  They should have spot checked everyone leaving Scene for drinking-and-driving.  They should have spot checked everyone for underage alcohol consumption.

The police should have done something. Before two people were shot. Clearly the police knew there was a problem at Scene, yet, it seems they let the issue linger.

Like I said, there’s a lot more to this story than what is being reported in the newspaper.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.