Three weeks ago the Oregon Department of Justice (DOJ) released results from an investigation into whether an Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) agent had made racist comments to Rami Makboul, the co-owner of the now defunct club The Vue. Last summer Makboul claimed that in 1997, an OLCC agent told him, "blacks belonged to Northeast Portland, not downtown."
It was hardly the first time that club owners—and specifically hiphop promoters—had alleged that OLCC agents discouraged them from putting on hiphop shows. Racism can be hard to prove. But with this latest accusation, there finally appeared to be a smoking gun. Even so, the agency didn't bother taking up an investigation until City Commissioner Sam Adams lobbied OLCC's executive director.
On December 30, the DOJ and OLCC quietly announced that the investigation "revealed inconclusive results" and went on to report they had found "no tangible evidence to conclusively confirm or deny the allegation."
The report does provide troubling insights into the OLCC's operations. According to DOJ interviews with Makboul and his brother, Ramez, they were encouraged by OLCC agents at a meeting with club owners to quit playing hiphop—specifically because it attracted blacks downtown.
Ted Papas, the owner of the Greek Cusina, who also attended the meeting, backed up these perceptions. "There were veiled comments made regarding 'black clientele' and sanctions to be levied if they did not comply," Papas explained.
Although the DOJ investigation refused to pin responsibility for these disgraceful comments on the OLCC, the investigation raises additional, curious questions—such as, why is the OLCC trying to regulate entertainment? In addition to attempts to clamp down on hiphop, the OLCC also has tried to curtail stripping and the music industry in general.
Most states understand there are plenty of safeguards against underage drinking and drunk driving without the need for a liquor control agency. When is Oregon finally going to come around?