Benson

The city is asking Benson's Community Club owner Jeffrey Benson to defend why his business should continue at Monday's public hearing.

Jeffery Benson believes a one of his businesses is being targeted by city leaders.

But the city wants Benson to defend why his business should continue after one died, another was injured and vehicles were shot into earlier this month near his business.

Benson owns Benson’s Community Center on North Central Avenue, near the site of a murder two weeks ago. Benson is set to go before the Alexander City City Council for a public hearing Monday to revoke the business license of the “club.” 

“Nobody but the Black club gets targeted,” Benson said. “It’s racism, discrimination and the reasons for closing me down are false accusations. Every time something comes up at Benson’s, they want to shut me down.”

Benson believes city leaders have already decided the fate of Benson’s Community Club.

“They have already shut me down before (Monday’s) meeting,” Benson said. “They are playing the game. They have already made their decision. They think if they shut me down, the shooting will stop.”

City leaders cite numerous calls over the last three years including a shots fired call where police discovered the murder of Antwain Laquan Morgan, 20, of Dadeville about 2:30 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 9. Police are still searching for the shooter and Benson disputes the fact his club is responsible for a fight police believe led up to the murder. Police said there was a fight in the parking lot broken up by security. Benson said they didn’t break up a fight.

“Those people involved in the shooting never came in the club,” Benson said. “We know better than that. We know them.”

Benson said he had been out in the parking lot just after closing at 2 a.m. to make sure everyone was leaving.

“I go out and see two police officers at the street,” Benson said. “Everyone is leaving the parking lot real good. I go back inside and lock the door. There are about four of us there and we start to hear (gunfire).”

Benson said people started to try to come back in. He said Morgan was next to one of the police vehicles across the street when he was shot and doesn’t believe the shot came from Benson’s Community Center.

“They didn’t find shells in the parking lot,” Benson said. “They might have found one but it was old. It didn’t happen on club property.”

Benson said the center is a bring your own beverage place and doesn’t sell alcohol. Benson said he employs three to four off-duty police officers to provide security.

“No one gets in without being scanned for temperature,” Benson said. “We search everyone. If they bring in a cooler, we dig into the bottom of it too. Nobody gets anything like a gun or knife in.”

The Alexander City Police Department’s computer-aided dispatch system keeps up with the calls to the police department and 911. Since 2017, 113 calls have been made to make complaints about Benson’s Community Club, according to dispatch records.

“This represents calls made to dispatch by phone,” Alexander City police chief Jay Turner said. “This does not mean a report was written about each call.”

In the list, only five calls of shots fired near Benson’s were made to dispatch including the one surrounding the death of Morgan. Other calls list a need to direct traffic, the road is blocked, someone with a gun or an ambulance call.

Benson said he knows about one ambulance call.

“There were about eight of us watching ballgames,” Benson said. “My friend passed out and fell out of his chair. I called (an ambulance). They are trying to use it against me. I called because I don’t know CPR.”

The summary dispatch report also notes 45 calls of loud music or party between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. Benson believes it’s a disgruntled neighbor.

“He used to live in town and came to the club,” Benson said. “The club moved out here so he moved here to be closer to the club. He became a Christian and he has a problem with the club. We were here first.”

Benson said the Alexander City Police Department responded to many of those nose complaints.

“They pulled up in his driveway to listen,” Benson said. “They would call back to dispatch and say they didn’t hear anything.” 

Benson said his club is popular for the local Black community because he said there is nowhere for them to go.

“We shouldn’t have to go to Opelika or Montgomery to have a party,” Bensons said. “We shouldn’t have to go across the bridge to Dadeville. This place is good. Most everyone lives with in 3 or 4 miles of it. If they have had too much, I’ll drive them home.”

Benson said the building is special to him as he held his wedding reception there when it was Ford’s Community Club. He takes precautions to make sure everyone is safe. Benson said it took five years to get his business license to hold receptions, birthday parties and reunions and has been in business for eight years. 

“It’s only part-time,” Benson said. “We are only open about twice a month.” 

Benson has been D.J.ing for 40 years. He even got married and held his reception in the same building when it was Ford’s Community Club.

“(Ford) had the same problems I have,” Benson said. “They are trying to use old history. They say they have broken fights, but they have made no arrests. They say they have all these complaints but no arrests.”

Benson joked about the club being safe.

“They say it’s not safe, Benson said. “I’d rather be at the club. It’s safer than home. My wife is dangerous; she could kill me.”

Benson is upset because he feels singled out.

“There are fights at Walmart,” Benson said. “There are fights at the bowling alley. There have been shootings at Huddle House and (Charles E. Bailey) Sportplex. There is illegal gambling in convenience stores, but they chose to close a Black business.”

Turner said at the last council meeting if revoking the license is not the route the council wants to take, it can take other measures.

“The city could sue in civil court seeking to declare it a nuisance,” Turner said. “If the courts agree, the building could be torn down.”

Benson was before the council in 2017 as city leaders sought to revoke the business license. The council didn’t. He will now go before the council again at its 5:30 p.m. meeting Monday to make his case, but doesn’t think the result will be the same.

“Everybody else can do what they want,” Benson said. “They only target me. They want to put the Black man out of business.”

Cliff Williams is a staff writer for Tallapoosa Publishers.