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I Just Want To Dance
Can't We All Just Dance
by Sherri Jackson
2003-04-01

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'Respect—Esteem for a sense of the worth or excellence of a person, a personal quality or ability, or something considered as manifestation of a personal quality or ability; deference to right, privilege, position or someone or something considered to have certain rights or privileges; proper acceptance or courtesy; formal expression or gesture of greeting esteem, or friendship.' — Random House Dictionary.

A night of horror and joy at a Near South Side nightclub ended horribly on Feb. 17, 2003. As a fight between two patrons turned into a frantic, deadly stampede that left at least 21 dead and 30 were rushed to hospitals and an untold number went to seek medical treatment on their on.

Witnesses said security guards at E2 and Club Epitome inadvertently touched off the panic by spraying pepper spray or some chemical substance into the crowd—an allegation authorities could not confirm. Some reports over airwaves stated someone yelled out 'Terrorist Attack.'

Chicago is a city that has been mourning this tragedy since it happened. It was five days later we would hear over the airwaves and television of our Euro sista's and brothers at a club called the Station in West Warwick, Rhode Island, the band's pyrotechnic display sparked a blaze that swept through the one-story building in minutes, killing at least 98 people and leaving more than 180 injured.

Smaller clubs like E2 and The Station are not experienced to handle national acts. Where and who do we put the blame on at E2 Nightclub? The club owners will be the ultimate blame because it is their property where the stampede took place. What about the individuals who sprayed pepper spray? Or the two women who were fighting over the fur coat that was more expensive?

On the brisk morning of Feb. 17 I was driving down South Lakeshore Drive headed for an all-day conference when I heard of the E2 nightclub event. I was bobbing my head to the tunes over urban airway. My cell phone and calendar in passenger seat ready for the business at hand. Over the airwaves Disc Jockey's on most stations were telling of the horrific event that took place, and taking calls from listeners.

One call in particular got my attention. It was from a young woman in her 20s named Cassandra. 'Hello callers we have Cassandra on the line. You want to say something sweetie about the E2 event?' the DJ asked. 'Yes, I want to first give my condolences to the families that loss loved ones. I also would like to say the problem is we have no respect for each other as Black people, and as a society as a whole. I could of been one of those individuals that died! I used to party there, but the crowd was changing and events were going on all the time that were never reported. Why can't we just go out and have fun and respect each other anymore?'

Cassandra's voice was cracking as if she were about to cry over the airwaves. The DJ was silent and let her continue to speak. I was at my destination for the conference. I sat in my car for a moment and I, too, said a prayer for those victims' families. I, too, thought of Cassandra's remark as the weeks went on.

Maybe we don't respect each other anymore as Blacks, and society as a whole? As our hearts hurt, we wonder in dismay of the 21 families of the 21 mostly young people, who perished tragically in the Chicago nightclub event. We couldn't explain the E2 club event before 98 people's lives were lost in a nightclub blaze in Rhode Island in a club called the Station.

While all this takes place, many of our loved ones are being shipped off to fight a war for which we still really don't have a reasonable explanation. Many others have lost jobs, and unemployment is at a high. We turn on television to the escape of 20 or more reality shows of folks selling their souls and bodies for the Benjamin's (dollars). These are the times we reflect what, when, and how will the outcome be as events seem to be spinning out of control.

We have always had club events that led in violence, misunderstandings, and fires. We have to ask ourselves the question maybe Cassandra the caller was trying to ask 'What is really going on in society and do we devalue human beings' lives so much?'

Once upon a time we danced, laughed, sang, and partied in harmony. If a drink was spilled on someone, we bought the individual another drink and said I'm sorry and went on getting our dance groove on. If you gave a compliment to another's date or to an individual it was that—a compliment! Now we have to prove who is the bigger individual and/or the better club. Some individuals I spoke with said it was greed from the club owners and ignorance from the patrons in Rhode Island—why have a fire show in a place that was wood, with no sprinklers? Who do we blame in this situation?

After the E2 club disaster, Commissioner James Joyce told the media: 'We found doors locked. We found doors blocked by storage and in some cases what appeared to be bags of laundry, maybe restaurant-type laundry. Those are (fire code) violations.'

Most of the deaths at E2 appeared to have happened on the front staircase of the night club, and were due to cardiac arrest, but there were also other contributing factors.

As a healthcare provider, I had a very horrific image of this stampede in my mind. I asked myself and other co-workers and friends in dialogue, what if it would have been someone we knew? What if it was a terrorist attack? Most hospitals are not adequately staffed, some not with updated equipment or proper training to handle these type of disasters.

Why can't we just go out and dance and enjoy each other's company? 'I just want to dance, can't we all just dance?'

Over the weeks I have heard folks of color and whites make statements such as the following. 'What in the hell was a pregnant woman doing in a club anyway?' 'I am sure that would never happen where I live in in the suburbs?' 'What were the older folks out with that type of crowd anyway?' 'They had children at home right?'

Or event 'It's a class issue, an age issue—you cannot let those low folks in your clubs and if they start the age at 25, we would get a better clientele and more mature?'

If we think about it, it boils down to the possible subject of classism and elitism in both Black and or white folks! We the outsiders will stereotype the patrons at E2 as much as we stereotype certain clientele that frequent gay nightclubs. We all know what we have said about our own gay bars and about who patronizes and who can not visit! It is easy for us the outsiders to ask these questions, but that is just it—we are outsiders, not insiders.

Some insiders are dead, others are living their lives and will never be the same after the Chicago or Rhode Island event.

We never know the dynamics one faces at home. Maybe the dance floor was their escapism from hell! Some folks like to dance for stress relief, others just literally need a break from their hustle and bustle of home, family, and work life. Dancing is their fun. Why can't we just dance, Black people?

There are two movies I would recommend to the young Hip-Hop generation and for the elders who want to forget the journeys we once went on clubbing, and staying in the streets. You're asking Sherri 'Why go deep in questions at a deeper level?' Check out the movie Love Come Down with Larenz Tate and singer Deborah Cox and Looking for Mr. Good Bar with young Richard Gere. These movies raise deep issues of how events of stampedes, violence, dysfunction, addiction, and sexual encounters could, and do, lead to events out of control.

I could be thinking on too much of a medical level, but ask yourself what happens when violence, addiction, anger, sexual encounters, and disrespect of yourself and another human being occur. Will these lead to similar events to E2 Club or Station?

None of us have the real answers. But we need to have real solutions so these events do not take place again.

So our young may have a place to release and just be young without DRAMA! Are we mentoring our young as they so often beg? Are we asking them to teach us the new school way of life and what the hell is it all about? Are condoms in a club and the talk of safe sex being spoken and emphasized loudly anymore? Or with prescribed cocktails for healing, we just got quieter?

If we are to have places to attend as folks of color, then stop blaming the man. We need to patronize them, make them, and be safe in them! Turn away instead of what could lead to what took place at E2. Don't drive home or let friends drive home intoxicated! Know your exit doors and how to get out safely in emergency.

From two saddened situations, now clubs and establishments will be watched even more so. Maybe that was the problem in the first place—maybe they weren't watched close enough in the past. We ask that question also.

Before we are too quick to react and call the race and class card, turn the mirror to yourself and then become part of the solution. I have heard that it is OK to be ignorant and not know. It is another thing to be arrogant and ignorant and still wish to remain arrogant and ignorant and desire not to know!

'Why can't we just dance, can't we just dance?' — Larenz Tate


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