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Mayor defends city's clubs after deadly shooting

EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. — A weekend shooting that left three people dead and wounded two others outside an East St. Louis nightclub shouldn't be blamed on the struggling city's entertainment scene that critics insist contributes to nagging violence, the mayor said.

The deadly gunfire that erupted early Sunday outside Club VIP, which does not serve alcohol, came just days after St. Clair County's top prosecutor credited a crackdown on violence-prone areas of the city for a sharp decrease in the city's homicide rate.

Mayor Alvin Parks Jr. said the dispute began over someone dancing with a woman while the business was hosting a "teen night" event. After the men were forced to leave the business, Illinois State Police said, the dispute escalated with gunfire on the parking lot.

The coroner's office identified one of the dead as Henry Byrd, 21, of Alton, while the Belleville News-Democrat reported that Alonzo Phifer, 19, of East St. Louis also was killed. The name of a 20-year-old man who also died was not immediately released.

Two 18-year-old men who were wounded were treated at a hospital and released, authorities said.

There was no word Monday on any arrests or charges.

Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat and East St. Louis native, has for months has pressed Parks to order earlier closing times for nightclubs, believing access to liquor fuels violent crime in his 27,000-resident hometown and hurts efforts to rehab its sullied image.

In June, the City Council — against Parks' wishes — signed off on measure ordering East St. Louis nightclubs to close at 2 a.m. on weekdays and 3 a.m. on weekends, a departure from an ordinance that allowed them to be open in many cases until 6 a.m.

Parks consistently has defended the nightclubs, insisting that drugs, criminals with guns and people retaliating as reasons for the killings, not the clubs he insists bring much-needed revenue to the impoverished, mostly black city.

"It is not the club that caused the shooting," Parks said again on Sunday, after the violence outside Club VIP. "It's having people having guns in their possession at the wrong time. It's people having beefs and exercising vendettas against each other."

Sunday's deadly gunfire came just days after St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly said that since prosecutors began focusing June 1 on East St. Louis locations linked to violent crime, the murder rate has dropped 30 percent over the same period last year. That crackdown has centered on nightclubs, liquor stores, housing projects and abandoned buildings.

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