The city doesn’t get to choose the settings of its historic crucibles. A dark street in Bensonhurst, 1989. A bustling intersection in Crown Heights, 1991. A police-station bathroom in Flatbush, 1997. In Sean Bell’s case, the stage was set at a wood-paneled afterthought of a strip joint in Jamaica, Queens, in the early hours of Saturday, November 25, 2006.
Club Kalua had opened three years earlier, just another cut-rate market for vice, on a quiet side street around the corner from the Jamaica Long Island Rail Road station. Pimps and hookers cruise the front door, lit by the fluorescent glow from the JFK AirTrain terminal down the block. Inside, the girls don’t offer lap dances so much as just plop onto your lap and demand drinks. Hookers pay the bouncers for the right to waitress and meet johns there; some of the girls are said to be as young as 13. The tricks take place in cars, or in a cheap hotel a block away, or right there on 94th Avenue. Getting customers drunk seems to be club policy. White laser-printed notices are taped to the walls: MUST HAVE DRINK ALL THE TIME. Drunk johns mean more tips for the bartenders (whom the hookers are also paying off) and less of a chance that the johns turn out to be undercover cops. continue reading