Managers of a Little Rock concert venue canceled tonight's scheduled performance by a Memphis rapper after elected city officials raised concerns late Thursday about a string of violent altercations accompanying the artist's appearances.
Police Chief Kenton Buckner first raised concerns a week ago about the concert, which was scheduled for 10 p.m. today at the iHeart Media Metroplex Live, 10800 Colonel Glenn Road.
In an Oct. 5 letter to San Antonio-based iHeart Media and Entertainment Inc., Buckner detailed three shooting incidents in regard to recent appearances by Demario Dewayne White Jr. in other states.
White, who uses the stage name Moneybagg Yo, also has ties to Ricky Hampton, the Memphis-based rapper who was performing at a downtown Little Rock club in July when gunfire broke out, injuring 25.
Those ties alarmed city leaders because the two Memphis artists have had an ongoing "beef," according to numerous social media posts and online videos.
Mayor Mark Stodola and city directors only learned of the concert after an all-day budget workshop late Thursday afternoon. Stodola wasn't happy that he and the board had been kept in the dark about the concert for a week.
"I'm trying to find out why I was not briefed earlier," Stodola said in a phone interview late Thursday. "I thought it was a pretty dumb thing to book this concert, not because of the nature of the music but because of the individual performer's pattern of documented violence and the nature of our city in the aftermath of the shooting in July.
"I'm thankful it got resolved."
Stodola and other city leaders began contacting concert organizers Thursday evening and scheduled an emergency meeting of the Board of Directors. At the meeting, which was called off after the concert cancellation, city directors were to determine how to block the performance, whether by petitioning a circuit judge for an injunction on grounds of a public-safety threat or sending a cease-and-desist letter to event organizers.
Local and state officials in recent months have grappled with how to handle nightclubs and concerts that pose risks to public safety after they were roundly criticized after the̶ J̶u̶l̶y̶ ̶2̶ July 1 shooting at Power Ultra Lounge, 22 W. Sixth St., for failing to ensure effective safeguards were in place to prevent such violence.
The primary concern Buckner raised in his letter to iHeart Media was that the venue lacked adequate security plans. At the time, organizers intended to hire 10 off-duty police officers to provide security at the facility, which has a capacity of 2,500, according to its website.
"We believe that number to be wholly inadequate," Buckner wrote to iHeart Media's chief operating officer.
The letter also told of a Nov. 24, 2016, Moneybagg Yo concert in West Point, Miss., where a person was shot and killed after getting caught in a crossfire with the intended target. On March 11 of this year, two men were shot at a Moneybagg Yo concert in Columbus, Ga., as the rapper was taking the stage. More recently, White was involved in a shooting in New Jersey at a rest stop. The van he was riding in was hit with gunfire, and two of his associates were injured.
"Our intelligence indicates that the shooting occurred because he did not pay a protection fee to the Sex Money Murder Bloods gang," Buckner wrote.
Reached Thursday night, Buckner said that Metroplex agreed to increase its security at the Police Department's request, adding five off-duty officers in uniform. It also planned to have 30 security guards working the event and to search everyone with metal detector wands upon entrance, including the performers.
"I feel like they've done what we reasonably asked them to do," Buckner said. "This is obviously something that is very sensitive to our community considering the anomaly we had with Power Lounge. Certainly we don't want to overreact or act as if we can never have another concert in our city. I feel adequate with the staffing that we have and that we are prepared to go forward, but I do understand the mayor and others have concerns. Our goal was to make sure we did everything we felt was reasonable to ensure this is a fun, friendly and safe event."
Phone calls to White's representatives requesting comment late Thursday weren't returned. However, the artist did take to Twitter.
"Sorry Arkansas they canceled the show," he posted. Minutes later he tweeted again. "I'm just misunderstood that's the story of my life."
IHeart Media's corporate offices and managers of the local venue also did not return phone calls seeking comment Thursday night.
After City Manager Bruce Moore showed the mayor and board members Buckner's letter to iHeart Media on Thursday afternoon, they were visibly and vocally angry at the last-minute notice.
"This is alarming," Ward 3 City Director Capi Peck said.
Ward 2 City Director Ken Richardson got up and started walking out. "That letter was composed a week ago, and now we are getting it the day before?" he said.
Stodola said, "We do not need a Sex Money Murder Gang here, and I suggest we do everything we can. I suggest we get the city attorney to revisit this issue."
Several city directors stayed even though the budget workshop was adjourned, and started making phone calls to see what they could do. There was mention of calling an emergency board meeting sometime today.
They shook their heads as they read Buckner's letter. Vice Mayor Kathy Webb's jaw dropped.
Doris Wright of Ward 6 said, "You've got all this gun and violence going on, and you got people who are going to flock to that place," the Metroplex facility, which is within Ward 6 boundaries. "There's no way I'd risk my life to hear some fool named Moneybaggs, but our young people don't understand."
Several city directors questioned why they were just getting the letter. Moore told them he took his cue from advice by City Attorney Tom Carpenter that there was nothing the city could do to stop the performance.
"[The mayor] needs to call the local iHeart affiliate for us as a board and say we are not putting up with this and we are going to pursue legal actions. If Tom won't, let's hire someone to do it," at-large City Director Dean Kumpuris said. "We need to be in a position to do everything we can. We've got enough bad publicity. We just said we are going to do something [after the July club shooting]."
Stodola could be heard on the phone with Carpenter after Thursday's board meeting about 4:30 p.m. talking in an argumentative tone. He told Carpenter the board wanted an injunction and mentioned defenses the city could use in seeking an injunction. He also disagreed that the city would be liable for violating the First Amendment if it sought to have a court stop the concert.
"The board unanimously wants you to prepare an injunction on the theory that clearly [the performer] has a propensity to create violence in his concerts, that the situation in Little Rock has shown that very possibly could happen here. We cannot control what happens in the parking lot of Metroplex. While we may be able to insist on a certain type of security, are we going to be able to do that in every entrance and exit? The fact we had that incident in July shows the climate in Little Rock. Whether we can prevail or not, we need to make every effort we can to make sure this does not occur, " Stodola said on the phone to Carpenter.
A feud between the two Memphis rappers, partly over supposedly stolen lyrics, peaked in the spring with Hampton -- who goes by Finese2Tymes -- declaring in a video posted to YouTube that White needed to pay his gang $50,000 to safely perform in Memphis.
Another video posted in April by a Memphis hip-hop blogger claimed that the two rappers had settled their differences. The blogger said the two men feared they'd lose money if people were too scared to attend their concerts, fearing the possibility they may get caught in the crossfire.
Authorities haven't linked the July club shooting to Hampton and White's "beef," instead blaming it on the escalation of violence between two local gangs.
Hampton was arrested in Birmingham, Ala., on unrelated federal gun charges the night after the shooting at the now-defunct Power Ultra Lounge. His trial is scheduled for March.
Late Thursday, Stodola also noted that a heavy police presence will be needed at the State Fair today, not to mention regular street patrols.
After spikes in homicides and other violent crimes over the summer, the violence slowed in recent months after the Police Department increased patrols, with officers working overtime.
"The last thing we needed was something like this," Stodola said
Metro on 10/13/2017
*CORRECTION: Twenty-five people were injured by gunfire in a July 1 shooting at Power Ultra Lounge in downtown Little Rock. The date of the club shooting was incorrect in a previous version of this article.