New Karibbean City’s After-Hours Permit Revoked, Prompting Discrimination Accusation

Florida rapper Plies performs at New Karibbean City in 2016. (Courtesy New Karibbean)

The City of Oakland has revoked a popular nightclub’s after-hours permit at the urging of the Oakland Police Department, citing crime near the club and the wider “downtown area.”

Richard Ali, owner of Webster Street hip-hop club New Karibbean City, was notified Thursday of the permit revocation, which he said is tantamount to shuttering his business. “My model is people coming in after 1 o’clock,” he said. “We make most of our money during that time.”

Oakland police, in a letter acquired by KQED, called New Karibbean City a “nuisance” and a “drain on resources,” citing four reports of felonies “in and around” the club in the past six months. “So far this year, the Oakland Police Department has recovered 11 illegally possessed firearms in the immediate downtown area,” the police captain’s letter reads. “This trend cannot continue.”

Ali said it’s unfair to blame his club for 11 guns recovered in an area teeming with bars and venues. Of the three shootings cited in the letter, the original police reports show one stemmed from an argument in a different bar, and another occurred in a shared parking lot. Overall, Oakland police data show crime has actually dropped in the area including downtown.

New Karibbean City proprietor Richard Ali said his club has been targeted for selective enforcement by the Oakland Police Department.
New Karibbean City proprietor Richard Ali said his club has been targeted for selective enforcement by the Oakland Police Department. (Stephanie Lister/KQED)

Regulars celebrate New Karibbean City, a 752-capacity club that Ali has owned since 2008, as a vestige of old Oakland, and it attracts a predominantly black clientele. (He has also owned nearby Level 13 since 2007.) Ali said his club's demographic is the real problem for police, calling the revocation the latest example of Oakland police’s double standards and onerous restrictions for hip-hop nightlife.

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Ali spoke Friday as he prepared to file an appeal, which costs $763. He pointed out that his after-hours permit has long carried a condition stating, “No Hip-Hop events will be planned for the extended hour days,” to support his argument that New Karibbean City is treated differently because of its audience. “I’ve been reasonable, and this is discrimination,” he said.

DC is Chillin, the KMEL host and New Karibbean City DJ, described the nightclub as a cultural fixture popular among Oakland natives, noting that his mom partied there in its earlier incarnation. "It's the last club," he said. "A lot of new places are lounge-based, and a lot of East and West Oakland people I know aren't comfortable with the new places."

DC added, "At NKC you can play a new record and the crowd's real with you."

He pointed out, for example, that fellow DJ Big Von played Ella Mai's single "Boo'd Up" at New Karibbean City in late 2017. Inspired by the audience response, he brought it to KMEL, and radio nationally followed suit. Von's selection that night was noted in Rolling Stone as a turning point for the now-smash single.

New Karibbean City proprietor Richard Ali is appealing the City of Oakland's decision to revoke his club's after-hours permit.
New Karibbean City proprietor Richard Ali is appealing the City of Oakland's decision to revoke his club's after-hours permit. (Stephanie Lister/KQED)

Ali was interviewed by this writer for a 2017 feature about Oakland police and live hip-hop, describing how city cops, particularly in the Special Events Unit, pressured promoters to drop certain rappers from lineups. Some local artists felt they were effectively blacklisted; in one incident, Ali said an officer insisted he drop a rapper because of the artist’s lyrics about police harassment.

Previous reporting has shown that hip-hop venue owners in Oakland, including Ali, are required to seek special-event permits entailing thousands of dollars in police fees. Meanwhile, clubs associated with other styles of music are spared the expense under otherwise identical circumstances. The costs have led Ali and other promoters to pass on booking prominent touring artists in Oakland.

The latest conflicts are part of a long history. Oakland police and the local hip-hop community have been at odds practically since the inception of hip-hop. The city imposed a year-long moratorium on live rap in 1989, right at the time local artists such as Too $hort and MC Hammer were building national profiles. Geoffrey’s Inner Circle owner Geoffrey Pete blamed police overtime costs for temporarily closing his storied club in 2009, and filed an unsuccessful civil-rights lawsuit against the department.

KQED has requested comment from the Oakland Police Department.

This post has been updated with comments from DC is Chillin.

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