Back in 2001, the city of Charlotte passed a “dancehall” ordinance, with the aim being to shut down or at least heavily regulate places that might host raves. And so we’re absolutely clear, a “rave” is a dance party featuring certain forms of electronic dance music. The audience is predominately white. Raves are also associated with drug use, particularly Ecstasy. The thing about raves is that they often don’t happen in traditional clubs. Rather, a promoter might hold a party somewhere, complete with a sound system and a DJ, and people would learn of it by word-of-mouth.

People in Charlotte’s music scene were rather frightened of the city targeting raves. It’s not that they were necessarily fans of raves but they feared that the powers-that-be didn’t understand what raves actually were, that whatever rules the city drafted would have unintended consequences, and would be used to squish something besides its intended target.

These fears proved well founded. I distinctly remember being at Tremont Music Hall one Saturday night in the run up to city council passing the ordinance and seeing Pat McCrory and Patrick Cannon come wandering in to check things out. An alt-country band was playing at the time.

Now fast forward to September 2014, when a District Court judge struck the dancehall ordinance down as unconstitutionally vague. This came after the owner of a space cited for holding a Sweat Sixteen party without a dancehall permit challenged the ordinance in court. Oh, the club owner is black. In fact, 13 of the 15 places cited for violated the ordinance between 2009 and 2014 are African-American. As the Charlotte Observer reports:

The ordinance defined a dancehall as any place open to the public that has music, has space for dancing (even if there is no dancing actively taking place), and allows admission by payment or donation.

There are exclusions, including private residences, government-owned and -operated buildings, schools, “bona-fide” religious buildings, and any business regulated by alcohol control laws.

Sweat’s recording studio also has a party room that he rents out for gatherings.

He ran afoul of the ordinance because he collected $1 from each guest at the door. He said the parents of the girl were collecting the money for a birthday gift.

In Sweat’s case, his defense team demonstrated – in an almost comical way – the overly broad language of the ordinance.

Samuel Williams, a law student, visited the Harris YMCA. He showed his membership card that costs $66 per month. He said he heard music by Rihanna playing over the building’s sound system, and he found a space available for dancing.

“He danced in view of YMCA employees, who permitted him to do so,” according to Hoover’s court order dismissing the charges against Sweat.

The law student did the same thing at the Phillips Place movie theater. He bought a ticket and began dancing to music playing from the televisions in the lobby. No one stopped him.

He did the same thing at other institutions: The Levine Museum of the New South. The NASCAR Hall of Fame. Even Monkey Joe’s, the children’s indoor playground.

“… (He) found space available to dance and began dancing in view of Monkey Joe’s employees, who permitted him to do so,” Hoover wrote. “Further, when informed of Mr. Williams’ purpose, a Monkey Joe’s employee told him he had just missed a group of children doing the dance known as the ‘Cha-Cha.’”

To get around the vagueness problem, the city is considering changing its definition of a dancehall to a place “where a dance open to the public is held.” Not everyone has bought into the concept though. Mayor Dan Clodfelter asked: “Do we still need this (ordinance) at all?” The answer to that is, of course, a resounding “no.”