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The Preacher And The Politician

(After two minor surgeries over three days last week, I'm feeling a little like my hometown -- sore, stitched up and struggling to get back on my feet. But also like my Detroit, I will rise again...uhm, just as soon as I get this air-cast off my foot. Still, it feels good to be back on the Blog, so let's get it...)

Interesting reports today about how Rev. Marvin Winans squared off with Detroit City Council prez Charles Pugh in yet another round of debate about what to do with strip clubs in Detroit.

“It's not whether the ordinance can cut muster, but whether you can,” Winans said, referring to council concerns about the constitutionality of the previous draft of the ordinances. “You suffer from amnesia and can't remember where you stood.”

“I assure you that we have only begun to fight.”

Pugh then invited Winans to partner with the city and strip club owners to patrol against crime in neighborhoods surrounding the club.

Winans said he was not interested in a partnership unless the council restored the alcohol ban, the pasties requirement and the six-foot rule.

Well, IMO, Pugh's on point in this debate. And if that's really how the reverend feels about cooperating with the city, then I think maybe he should go sit down somewhere and "chill-ax," as the late great Bernie Mac used to say.

Why? Well, even if we leave aside the overarching constitutional concerns over elements of the proposed strip club ordinance, many of its proponents' arguments strike me as specious in some respects.

Let's start with this argument that these clubs contribute heavily to crime in our communities: Having grown up in Detroit and squandered way too much time at local strip clubs in my misbegotten young adulthood, I'm pretty confident that strip clubs in this town are no more apt to attract crime than a dance club, bar, house party or liquor store. I'm not saying that vice crimes don't happen. They do. And even some violence jumps off.

But when it comes to the bloodshed that mars this city and makes too many of our blocks barely livable, I've seen waaaay more people shot, stabbed and beaten down outside regular bars and party stores than I've ever seen hurt at strip clubs. (Ain't no bouncers at the "Beer and Wine.")

As for the vice, I can also say, speaking from experience, that there's not nearly the sort of rampant prostitution going on in the clubs that these right reverends would have us believe. The dancers are often afraid of running afoul of an undercover cop. And they are also equally afraid of ticking off their bosses, who know good and well that openly allowing young women to sell their bodies in their establishments is a sure-fire way to lose their licenses, catch a fine and get run out on a rail.

Does that mean that some women don't trick from the strip club anyway? Sure, they do -- same as they do from the casinos and nightspots. And it also means some clubs will indeed try to look the other way. But that's something that can be deterred with a real police presence -- not by making the women cover up or dance six feet away from patrons.

Furthermore, so much of the crime that is truly ravaging the city's neighborhoods exists largely because of unemployment, despair, drugs, greed and easy accessibility to weapons. I just don't think that making strippers sport pasties is going to solve any of this. I also think it's a bit dishonest for these preachers to act like getting "Fantasy" and "Peaches" off the pole and out of business will make Detroit even an iota safer. Worse, I think it's petty and downright reprehensible for any of them to suggest that they are uninterested in partnering to fight local crime unless they can first stop grown men and women from swilling Remy Martin at a legal establishment at 11:30 at night.

As for the long-running complaint about "why they don't open more strip clubs in the suburbs," I think it's largely because suburbs are meant to be just that -- outposts, the periphery of the action, the crust of the pie. For better or worse, Detroit really does need to quit allowing itself to be compared to every bedroom burg north of 15 Mile Road, as if those too should be treated like big cities.

Respectfully, Utica or Fraser ain't Chicago, people -- and they're not supposed to be. Detroit is -- or should be -- where the bulk of the action is around here...when it comes to nearly any business in the region. Every major city in the world has strip clubs. In that sense, Detroit is no different from Paris or Toronto or Miami or Bangkok. But most major cities in the world also abound with supermarket chains, downtown pharmacies and department stores, vibrant tourist attractions and five-star hotels and restaurants. (Not to mention real red-light districts where the "adult" stuff is usually concentrated.) I'd rather we work on bringing in a greater diversity of businesses, instead of on running out the handful of places some ministers find morally problematic.

Finally, this is America — not Afghanistan. Personally, I'm tired of every sanctimonious cat with a gilded "good book" in his hands screeching at law-abiding taxpayers to live the way he demands. Your religion is your business, not something you foist on the rest of us. Many religious leaders in this town need to respect that not everyone in metro Detroit belongs to their church or mosque, subscribes to their faiths or adheres to what they think of as their "value systems."

I like what Pugh told a radio minister about the strip clubs in an interview after his verbal joust with Winans:

I don't frequent them. I don't go to yoga clubs either. I don't go to dance clubs. I don't go to smoke houses. But do they have a right to exist? Absolutely they do. It's the same as religious freedom."

I certainly respect that the reverend has a right to his religion, a right to his opinion and a right to be able to speak at a public hearing in his hometown. (I did think Pugh was a bit too hard on Winans when he questioned whether the pastor currently lives in the city.) But even though I don't go to strip clubs anymore — mainly because I'm older and have other things to do with my time and money (like raise my children) — I reserve the right to "make it rain" whenever I feel ready.

And I really don't need "men of the cloth" dictating the rules on how I should do it either.

Naturally, I think I'm right. Doesn't necessarily mean you do, of course, so feel free to chime in and share your own viewpoint on this issue, be it pro or con.

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