is Latest Drug War Tactic as Government Seeks to Put "Rave" Dance Promoters in
March 7, 2001
NEW ORLEANS, LA--A local music promoter and a concert hall manager who
face up to 20 years in prison and $500,000 in fines simply for staging the
electronic dance music events known as "raves" said today that the
charges against them amount to censorship and have asked a federal court here to dismiss
"The prosecution by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is part of
a novel -- and entirely unconstitutional -- strategy to curtail use of the
drug Ecstasy, which has been associated with raves, by using federal 'crack
house' laws," said Arthur Lemann, a local attorney who is representing
one of the defendants.
Youth culture expert Douglas Rushkoff as well as music industry
professionals are speaking out against the prosecution of rave organizers as an
unfounded attack on a vibrant music culture. The American Civil Liberties Union
has also said that it opposes such prosecutions on constitutional grounds.
"Holding club owners and promoters of raves criminally liable for what
some people may do at these events is no different from arresting the stadium owners and
promoters of a Rolling Stones concert or a rap show because
some concertgoers may be smoking or selling marijuana," said Graham Boyd,
Director of the ACLU's Drug Policy Litigation Project.
Today's case marks the first time that the government has used the
"crack house" law to prosecute organizers of raves. Prosecutors around the
country are watching the case and have already publicly announced an interest in applying
the same strategy in their districts, Boyd said.
"If the government is successful in shutting down raves," he added,
"what's to stop them from applying this tactic to other music genres, such as
hip-hop, heavy metal and jazz, where drug use is known to exist?"
At a hearing today in federal district court, James D. Estopinal --
known to worldwide fans of electronic music as "Disco Donnie" for his legendary
rave parties -- and Brian Brunet, a manager of the State Palace Theater here,
will enter "not guilty" pleas and seek a dismissal of the case.
Lawyers for Brunet and Estopinal are charging a violation of their
clients' basic constitutional rights to free speech and due process. Their
clients, they said, "have been targeted because of the genre of music that they
promote and the unsubstantiated association of that genre with rampant
New Orleans attorney Lemann, who will appear in court tomorrow with
Brunet and Estopinal, noted that both men had fully cooperated with "Operation
Rave Review," a joint investigation by the New Orleans police department and
But under pressure from the media and the public, according to the
brief, "the DEA has revised its strategy, ignoring drug dealers, and instead
prosecuting electronic music concert promoters, whom the government does
not accuse of providing drugs, assisting anyone in providing drugs, or of
being directly involved with drugs in any way whatsoever."
Passed by Congress in 1986 to combat crack cocaine, the federal "crack
house" law was designed to punish the owners or operators of houses used for
the manufacture, storage, distribution or use of illegal drugs.
Yet Congress specifically rejected using the crack house tactic last
year when it passed the Ecstasy
Anti-Proliferation Act. Passed in October
2000, the Act strengthened penalties for those caught trafficking in the drug
and provided money for educational programs. Significantly, however,
lawmakers eliminated a controversial provision that would have limited speech
about ecstasy and other drugs.
Raves are a legitimate cultural event just like rock concerts, art exhibitions and film
screenings, and can be an important outlet for young people, according to journalist and
youth culture expert Douglas Rushkoff, a Professor of Media Culture at New York University
and author of "Coercion: Why We Listen to What 'They' Say."
"In a world where most every authentic expression of youth
culture is commodified by a media conglomerate and sold back to teens at the mall, rave
culture stands as one of the few, relatively uncorrupted outposts for America's
kids," he said.
Grassroots organizing has already sprung up in response to this latest government
censorship threat: the newly established Electronic
Music Defense and Education Fund (EMDEF), is spreading the word to rave enthusiasts
and music industry professionals.
William Patterson, an EMDEF activist, said that concert promoters are concerned about drug
use in their community and have taken proactive steps to alleviate problems of drug use by
some patrons. The Lindesmith Center, a drug policy
organization working to broaden and better inform the public debate on
drug policy and related issues, sponsors the group.