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Concert cancellation an opportunity to look at Winston-Salem's priorities
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Concert cancellation an opportunity to look at Winston-Salem's priorities

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Intent — motive — can be nearly impossible to gauge. Especially when it’s dressed up in the finest language lawyers can muster.

Such is the case involving a lawsuit filed by a Kernersville music promoter against the city of Winston-Salem over an alleged breach of contract.

The promoter, Starr Entertainment LLC, says through a court filing that it paid $189,000 in non-refundable deposits to nail down the services of a group of performers — Moneybagg Yo, Big Latto and Pooh Shiesty, among others — and a $2,500 deposit payable to the city for use of the Winston-Salem Fairgrounds.

One small hurdle cropped up, though, per a cancellation letter sent by city officials: The Winston-Salem Police Department came to the conclusion that it “believes, based on publicly available information, that there exists a chance of violence and gang activity … in connection with the planned concert.”

Whoops. The plug was pulled, and cold hard cash swirled the drain. Lawyers proceeded to do what lawyers do — exchange letters and file suit over what on its face is a business dispute.

But given the nature of the concert (rap) and the target audience (young black men and women), it’s fair to wonder about other motivations.

Doesn’t take a detective

Starr Entertainment, in a best-case scenario, would like the show to go on as planned at the end of this month. It asked a judge to issue a restraining order and an injunction forcing the city to honor the contract.

An agreement was signed June 9, and promotional expenses for radio spots, flyers and so on were laid out. The city, per the contract, was to handle ticket sales.

But 12 days later came the cancellation letter. The whole affair landed in a court filing and news began to filter out. Social media users were quick to note that a rap concert had been canceled but gun shows and country music shows have been allowed to proceed.

Jessie Fontenot, the attorney representing Starr, spelled it out plainly.

“This is the only rap show that is on the calendar for the Fairgrounds at all this year,” Fontenot told a reporter earlier this week. “The reasoning that the city has given … is more of a generalized concern about gang violence. It is clear that the audience that shows up at country music and gun shows is different from the audience that is going to show up at the rap show. It is the rap show that is specifically targeted.”

Hate Out of Winston, an activist group trying to do just what its name implies, echoed the sentiment in social media posts criticizing the “threadbare stereotype of associating hip-hop with concert violence.”

Judge the individual rather than relying on a gross stereotype, in other words. A valid point and a goal worth striving for.

In the case of one of the artists, however, it didn’t take the full investigative power of the Winston-Salem Police Department to conduct a background search.

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Anyone with a working Internet connection, 15 minutes’ free time and the ability to type “Moneybagg Yo” into a search engine can see the city’s concern for themselves.

In November 2016, a 21-year-old woman was shot to death during a Moneybagg Yo show inside a concert venue in West Point, Miss. Four months later, two young men were shot outside a nightclub in Columbus, Ga., before a scheduled performance by … Moneybagg Yo, aka Demario White, according to the government.

The rapper himself, according to media reports in New Jersey, was questioned by state police — but not charged — following the shooting of two people in Woodbridge, N.J., in August 2017. A van in which the performer had been riding had been shot at in a rest area, police said

Taken together, the three incidents prompted officials in Little Rock, Ark., to cancel abruptly in October 2017 a Moneybagg Yo show … after police there conducted their own Google investigation.

Afterward, Moneybagg Yo took to Twitter to lament that he’d been “misunderstood” and that “it’s the story of my life.”

Ask the questions

Presumably, the icing atop the cancellation cake for Winston-Salem officialdom came last September when one person was wounded by an outbreak of gunfire outside a club on Las Vegas Boulevard where a birthday party for Moneybagg Yo was being held.

The word “gang” is mentioned in exactly zero of the public reports about all those incidents, and yet here we are. Individuals bear responsibility for individual acts of violence.

Taken as a whole the city seems within its rights to cancel the show, even though the lawsuit does note that Starr Entertainment has staged successful shows at the Fairgrounds and that Moneybagg Yo has performed here without incident since 2016.

Given the preponderance of evidence (lawyer phrase, sue me), can you imagine the lawsuit that would land on the city’s doorstep if, God forbid, somebody had been shot at the Fairgrounds during this concert?

Where would the lawyers look first? The potential defendant with the deepest pockets, of course. And with an annual city general fund budget that runs to $221.7 million, whom might that be?

This whole mess, once it’s sorted out, begs another question: Should the city be in the concert business at all? And while we’re at it, why host gun shows?

Hate Out of Winston, in its post, addressed that very thing.

“This city which prides itself on being small but progressive is starting to look like a throwback to the 60s as in just a few weeks it is allowing the C&E Gun Show to come to the same fairgrounds on August 7 & 8th that it denied to the Black artists of Starr Entertainment. Is this because this is a largely white crowd?

“Have the vendors had their backgrounds checked? Has there been any connection between them and violent supremacist groups?”

Here’s a thought. Leave the Fairgrounds to the Carolina Classic Fair, trade shows (that don’t sell lethal products) and sporting events for which it’s suited. Promoters, if there’s a buck to be made, will find private venues and be on the hook for any liability that comes with.

Focus on potholes, police, parks, clean water and sanitation. You know, the things that matter most. Leave concert promoting — and gun shows — to private businesses and individuals.

336-727-7481

@scottsextonwsj

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