11/29/2011 02:21 pm ET Updated Jan 29, 2012

Whether or Not Fairfax Is Bigoted, Its Attacks on Dance Clubs Are Wrong

If even half the facts in the Washington Post's story about Fairfax County's crackdown on Latino nightclubs are true, Fairfax County Supervisors have a lot to explain. Quite simply, the reporting of the Post's Fredrick Kunkle reveals that Fairfax Country zoning, code, and alcohol enforcement officials have waged an all-out war on the County's Latino nightclubs.

The facts are pretty simple: in the recent past, Fairfax County has forced out of business or severely limited the operations of three restaurants with mostly Latino clientele that also offered dancing and/or live music. In all cases, the establishments in question drew a few complaints from neighbors. It appears, however, that neighbors must have been awfully sensitive. A look at satellite photos of The Star Lounge and Ballroom, Fast Eddies, and Terra Mare Bar and Grill, show that all three are located along busy, noisy arterial roadways. Only one, Fast Eddies', appears to have any housing within easy walking or hearing distance. All are surrounded by big parking lots. No dance clubs serving other identifiable groups, furthermore, have faced the County's wrath any time.

And Fairfax County's response to these establishments has been heavy-handed to say the least. Zoning officials closed Star Lounge permanently and on the spot because, it appears, the managers (or promoters) vastly overbooked a popular band, overcrowded the place, and left a few hundred outside. This was a problem -- the people responsible should have been fined for creating such obvious public safety hazard -- but a single, civil violation that resulted in nobody getting hurt is not good cause for government to shut down any business.

On its face, all this adds up to a decent -- although hardly airtight -- case that some powerful county regulatory enforcers are engaged in a campaign of discrimination against Hispanics. Certainly, however, there are other potential explanations: many people don't want to live near dance clubs and public officials may think that they are simply doing their job by shutting them down. And although the Post quotes Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President Michel Zujar as saying that "Latino culture is a celebrant culture, and they're a passionate people," there's an equally good chance that the battle is one of young against old rather than one of non-Hispanics against Hispanics. Young people just about everywhere like to listen to loud music that their elders don't much like and Hispanic Americans, mostly, are young. (The Census Bureau reports that the average age of Hispanic Americans, about 27, is ten years younger than the average age of the population as a whole as a whole.)

But, in the end, none of this is very important. Dance clubs are a legitimate business and, just as importantly, provide the public space that's characteristic of the cosmopolitan super-suburb Fairfax fancies itself to be. The simple fact that some neighbors and regulators dislike them should not give the government the ability to close them down as Fairfax's zoning officials have. Even if the decision to close down the dance clubs had nothing to do with ethnicity, Fairfax needs to change its policies -- they're just wrong.