Others argue the violence has subsided in recent years.

"I don't think at this point it's as bad as it was in the late '80s, when crack hit the scene," says DJ C-Note. "That's when it was crazy. It's not like that now. It's gotten a lot better."

Some say race has played a role in shaping the debate. Many of the public officials who've spoken out against the predominantly black nightclubs are white.

"Go to any of those [night]clubs in Sauget, and it's the same thing; it's just not talked about," contends DJ Snow. "They're trying to pinpoint it and say it's just a black thing. It's not. As a white boy who has worked in these clubs, I can vouch for that."

Perhaps the strongest argument in favor of after-hours clubs is that in some cases the dance floor is the safest place people could be.

"If they got no place to go, it's only going to be worse," DJ Lonnie Bee points out. "That means you have more people giving house parties. And from my history of DJing, you have more crazy incidents at house parties than you do at clubs, 'cause there's no control."

Nowhere does this line of reasoning hold true more than at Club Casino, whose security measures may only be rivaled by those at a state penitentiary.

All patrons are frisked and swiped with a metal detector. Sixteen video cameras record areas both inside and out. A uniformed East St. Louis police officer often sits in the entrance. Golf carts shuttle customers to and from their cars.

And then there's the crew of nine bouncers who call themselves the Goon Squad. Four men are stationed in the parking lot, five inside the club. All look like they could play left tackle for the Rams.

The squad members claim their reputation alone deters most would-be troublemakers, but if a scrap does break out, they trigger "fight lights," strobes placed throughout the club, to alert fellow team members. The guards generally issue two warnings before giving anyone the boot. One of the combatants is kept behind for a few minutes to prevent the clash from continuing outside.

"I would throw my own brother out if I had to," says Chico, a Goon Squad member with light skin, sleepy eyes and arms the size of anacondas. "But honestly, we get more women fights than anything else. That's almost worse, because when women locked up, they locked up."

The only club rule that seems to be consistently flouted is Illinois' statewide smoking ban.

"We try to enforce it," Taylor says with a shrug. "But when they see us coming, they just put it out."

Mark Bramlett of the Illinois State Patrol says that none of the fifteen homicides mentioned in his agency's report are linked to Club Casino. Nevertheless, he says, the club's patrons cause problems after they leave the virtual lockdown.

"I can tell you anecdotally that we've had shootings on [Interstate] 255 early in the morning from patrons who've left that particular club," Bramlett says. "I can't call it a drive-by, 'cause both suspects were in cars driving down the interstate shooting at each other."

"There are just certain things that are beyond our control," Taylor counters. "You can't fault us for that."

Nearly everyone — Taylor included — agrees there's a seedy side to East St. Louis nightlife that the city could do without. There is, however, no such consensus when it comes to a solution.

Many of those in favor of rolling back the clubs' hours acknowledge that any new measures will be counterproductive if not applied to all of St. Clair County.

City council member Delbert Marion has a full-time job as chief of police in the tiny village of Brooklyn, a few miles north of East St. Louis on Route 3. The town is home to several popular strip clubs that remain open all night. Marion says the crowd the strip joints draw already strains his eight-man police force.

"On a Friday night our population already doubles," he says. "If East St. Louis is at the forefront of closing early, those displaced people are going to come to little communities like Alorton, Centreville and Washington Park, and other city leaders are going to have to look at doing the same thing."

"It doesn't matter if you close down at 10 p.m. or 2 a.m.," agrees former East St. Louis Mayor Carl Officer. "People who really want to go out and do their drinking will do it in those neighboring communities."

Officer proposes setting a last call of 11 p.m. for all places that sell liquor in East St. Louis. Business owners who want to continue serving would pay a fee for each additional hour they remain open. The licenses could be priced on a sliding scale based on square footage and gross revenue.

Officer, who consulted with Marion and NAACP leader Johnny Scott to create the plan, says the additional fees could cover the cost of installing surveillance cameras and stationing a uniformed police officer at each club.

"How are you going to put men and women out of business strictly because of an hourly thing?" asks Officer, who now runs his family's mortuary business. "Business is tough enough as it is. You need to treat everyone fairly and protect the employees of these places."

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