Hip-Hop Shakedown

Show comes to abrupt end after police swarm club

| 3/4/2014, 1:07 p.m.
The shutdown of a Hip Hop show in SE Portland sheds light on a longstanding complaint that "Hip Hop is ...
A sold-out Hip-Hop show at the Blue Monk ended before it got fully started Saturday night when performer Illmaculate took the stage, stating that he would not perform as a result of an ever-swelling police presence that engulfed both the immediate blocks around the southeast Portland venue, and inside the club. Photo by Colin Mclaughlin @colinmclaughlin

In the book “Art of War,” mastermind general Sun Tzu proclaims that “the whole secret lies in confusing the enemy, so that he cannot fathom our real intent,” and on Saturday, at the Blue Monk there was certainly confusion injected between the grooves of Hip-Hop that were meant to be the star of the night.

Three of the biggest homegrown Hip-Hop acts in the city, Luck-One, Mikey Vegaz, and Illmaculate, were billed to headline an intimate stage at the restaurant and entertainment venue located at Southeast 33rd and Belmont.

The sold-out show however was brought to an abrupt halt once Illmaculate took the stage, stating that he would not perform as a result of the ever-swelling police presence that began to engulf both the immediate blocks around the venue, and inside.

The enforcement action was what many in Portland’s hip hop music scene see as on-going, targeted police harassment of rap shows.

Over 20 officers from the Portland Police Bureau as well as a Portland Fire Marshal ended up being at the Blue Monk that night. The authorities said they went to the entertainment site initially over concerns about possible gang affiliations, but then escalated their response over fire safety issues because it appeared the downstairs venue was overcrowded and they couldn’t get a radio signal or cell phone connection to reach 911 dispatch.

The fire marshal, Portland Fire Bureau Inspector Rob Cruser, talked with the Portland Observer on the night of the event.

He said he personally counted 135 bodies in the performance area. An official police report quoted the tally as “at least 120 people in the room;” and the Blue Monk website said they have a capacity of 100 in a cabaret-style setting.

Cruser denied that there was an effort to shut down the show, but said he did require that the crowd get thinned down to a legal capacity.

“I didn’t shut down the show off immediately, which I could’ve done,” Cruser said. “I wanted to work with the promoter to see if we could keep the show going.”

He said he picks a “handful” of shows to check in on nightly, and Saturday’s inspection was random.

But according to Portland Police spokesperson Sgt. Pete Simpson, the initial response was for something else. Simpson says the Police Bureau’s Gang Enforcement Team, communicated its concerns about seasoned performer Mikey Vegaz’ gang ties, an allegation the rapper denies.

According to the official police report, two police officers and the fire marshal arrived at the Blue Monk at 10:18 p.m. Saturday, and communicated their concerns about fire code violations to the venue owner Sheri Deitrick. It was nearly a half hour after the show was set to begin. Police said they were “intimidated” by one of the performers and other customers who were upset about their presence and used derogatory language, so they called in more police backup.

Bryce Trost, of Green Luck Media Group whom promoted the show, says after Vegaz’ set was over officers switched their attention from concerns over “gang presence” to the venue’s capacity, “It was extremely frustrating. I understand to a certain degree, the concern about the gang-related aspect. I don’t understand shutting down the entire square block.”