A group of angry and frustrated music promoters, whose businesses have come to a screeching halt following the implementation of a controversial Dance Hall Permit Law filed a $10 million class action lawsuit against Prince George’s County Executive Rushern T. Baker III and the Prince George’s County Council on May 15 in United States Federal Court in Greenbelt. Saying Prince George’s County bill CB-18-2011, which forced many independent promoters and private nightclub owners out of business, the lawsuit pro se by Lafayett Williamson of Bowie, Lou Smalls of Hyattsville, Brian Logan of Fort Washington and Dan Richardson of Clinton, asks for an immediate stay of execution and temporary restraining order as well as injunctive relief for racial bias and discrimination against African American business owners in the hospitality industry. The dispute between the county and the music industry is similar to another first amendment case in Fairfax County which is attempting to limit house parties to 50 people.
The lawsuit also targets bill sponsor Karen Toles, whom they say pushed the legislation through without a public debate to further her own political goals and to help establish a community need for entertainment venues at the National Harbor.The group also is seeking help from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and civil rights attorneys. The law also has become a lightening rod that has inspired thousands of young voters who have promised to voice their displeasure against political opponents on election day June 24. Prince George's County is the only local jurisdiction where you must obtain a license to hold a private party or special event.
The no dance rule also has severely curtailed the ability of local organizations such as the Glenarden Gold Room to host events that are used as fundraising tools for scholarships and other charitable causes. A spokeswoman for the Glenarden Room says revenue had been reduced to $2,000 in May from its norm of $20,000. Similar stories are being heard from around the county. In fact, one local pastor said he had an outdoor praise and worship event shut down because the church didn’t have a dance license.
“We were not allowed to voice any type of opinion such as town hall meetings or any other public forum,” the lawsuit said. “Why not? Because these petitioners believe that no African American would vote nor agree to stamp out dancing. It is our basic culture, for some, our means of survival, to others, our source of communications and links to our past. (Toles) avoided public hearings, public forums and meetings with District 7 voters.” The lawsuit also said the bill singles out returning citizens (ex-felons) who can no longer earn a living through independent promotions.
While the bill was established to curtail violence at dance venues, the lawsuit declares, “Dancing never shot anyone, Dancing never knife anyone. Dancing did defeat self-pity, low self-esteem and brought life and joy into the lives of people. There is even a Dancing with the Stars Television Program so how can we be targeted by Karen Toles without black culture being targeted.”
CB-18 on the other hand, does not target alcohol, liquor stores, schools, military establishments, Metro Stations, shopping malls and even police stations where “far more violence exists.”As a result of the legislation a spokesman for the group said nine small restaurants and nightclubs had closed in Toles’ District, including The Legend which in its last year of operation employed more than 40 people with more than $4 million in revenue.
"I lost my business because of this law," said Richardson. "It is a definite violation of my first amendment rights. The law makes no sense. Are they going to stop Zumba dancing. It has already had an impact on the elderly who like to hand dance. Somebody has got to do something. We took it upon ourselves to get the ball rolling."