Saturday, December 14, 2002

Rave bust creates buzz online, across nation - THE MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL

Fans complain party-goers were ticketed for merely attending event
Last Updated: Dec. 14, 2002
Racine - Racine has become the talk of the Internet among young people around the country who enjoy going to rave parties.

Through e-mail, Web sites and Internet newsgroups, rave-goers have been sharing their outrage over the $968 citations issued to 441 people at a Nov. 2 rave party in Racine. And many are also following news stories as most of the people cited begin to fight their cases in court.

"When there's word of something like this, it spreads pretty quick," Madison, Ill., rave promoter Jeff Lofink said in an interview last week. He'd seen postings about the Racine rave bust on, and in various Internet newsgroups.

"Usually, you have to be doing something wrong to get a ticket," Lofink said, explaining why some people are upset.

His impression of Racine?

A place "where the police don't follow the laws too much, where they feel they can overstep their bounds."

The Police Department certainly has come under fire, albeit mostly from teenagers and young adults who attend rave parties. The criticism, some officials say, may be unfair.

When the Sheriff's Department raided a rave in Yorkville, it did what many law enforcement agencies have done: break up the party and write citations to the party organizers. But that rave was six or seven years ago, Sheriff William McReynolds said, before local authorities had any indication that rave parties were virtually synonymous with the illegal use of drugs, usually Ecstasy.

"I think the Police Department was looking at a whole different situation," the sheriff said.

Journal Sentinel reporters who attended a rave in April at the Alliant Energy Center of Madison found that most of the young people interviewed said they had used the drug, and some said they bought it there. A recent report from the U.S. Department of Justice indicated that emergency room personnel had seen a 500% increase in the number of patients on the drug in the six years ending in 1999.

But rave fans think it was outrageous that merely attending the Racine party resulted in getting a citation for being an "inmate of a disorderly house/controlled substances."

Pointing out that only three people at the party were arrested on drug charges, they said in interviews that they're spreading word about the Racine bust, in part, to be prepared if the tactic is used elsewhere.

"There's just this misconception that we're the only ones doing (drugs)," said Mike Phillips, 26, of suburban Washington, D.C. "I go because I like the music. You can't punish the people that are going for the right reasons because of the ones that are going (for drugs)."

Phillips and others who discuss the Racine bust and other rave issues over the Internet said they had never heard of police writing citations to party-goers. They said Racine police probably cracked down hard so that no raves would be held in the city in the future - and that the technique probably was effective.

City officials have acknowledged that they want to deter future parties, even as the city attorney's office has made plea bargains. Initially, those cited who pleaded no contest to the "inmate/controlled substances" citation were fined only $100. Then last week, the city attorney's office offered those who pleaded no contest the lower fine and a citation for disorderly conduct, with no reference to controlled substances.

But the city still faces the potentially costly prospect of having to hire a special prosecutor and pay police overtime for hundreds of trials. So far, most of the party goers have pleaded not guilty.

A final round of initial court appearances is set for Monday.

Police in Racine were suckered by the "corporate sensational media," which make it seem that every rave is rife with illegal drug use, said Jon Gibson, 23, of Vancouver, Wash. The crackdown will only create more danger, he said, because rather than being held in bars, raves will go back to being held underground.

That would be a shame, said Dave Meeker of Chicago, director of The Selekta, an organization that supports electronic music deejays, promoters and producers. As rave parties have become more public, they have increased security and searches at the door, he said.

"I don't know how many times I've seen drug dealers pushed out the door and their drugs flushed down the toilet" without police needing to intervene, Meeker said.

Others who have gotten involved in the Racine bust aren't fighting for the right to party, necessarily, but to preserve civil liberties.

"The Bill of Rights is threatened, so wherever it occurs it's a threat nationally," said Racine attorney Erik Guenther, who is representing some of the people cited.

Amy Tyler, host of a daily talk show on KTBB-AM near Houston, said she had discussed the Racine case several times because she and her listeners view the raid as a misuse of police power.

"Government has just gotten away with too much for too long, and it's time we started fighting back," Tyler said.

The raid also has caught the attention of the Milwaukee-based American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, which has been helping people with the court process, and the ACLU's National Project on Drug Policy.

Graham Boyd, the project director in Connecticut, said the ACLU may become formally involved because police are "essentially going after a kind of music. It's a culture that's under assault."

Law enforcement didn't always overreact to new music forms linked to drugs, Boyd contended, saying jazz flourished in the 1920s even though many of its fans favored marijuana.

"If you had that same kind of law enforcement as they're using today, we may have never heard of Louie Armstrong," he said.


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