After a Harvard-bound 21-year-old said police refused to help him when he was kicked out of a Raleigh, NC sports bar for being black, other spurned patrons came out of the woodwork to claim they had received the same racist treatment. Now their grassroots campaign to shut the bar down is gaining traction. Who needs the cops when you've got social media on your side?
Jonathan Wall's story started attracting attention after North Carolina Central University Instructor Philip Christman posted Wall's account of the incident on his blog yesterday. Christman said he calls Wall, a former student of his, "Mr. President" because "he's one of the most intimidatingly accomplished and polished undergrads I've ever met." Here's how Wall says it went down:
Last Saturday, June 16th, Wall and two other friends arrived at Downtown Sports Bar and Grill around 12:30 AM. "You need a membership to come in tonight," the bouncer told them. "I've never seen you here before." The friends were confused, since the bar is better known for its all-you-can-eat wings and massive TVs than fancy private parties — and because the people in line before them walked right in after showing their ID.
The only difference between those people and my friends and I was our race. Still, we stood at the door in bewilderment asking "What?" as he further tried to explain that we weren't going to be able to come in because of our "non-member" status. However, as he was explaining this, a police officer walked up to where he was standing to tell him something unrelated. As soon as he caught sight of the officer beside him, he said "Never mind, y'all go ahead." This was the first interesting ordeal of the night, but not the last.
Once inside, Wall was accosted by an employee [who he later learned was the bar's manager] after standing near the bar by himself for a few moments. "Either buy a drink or leave right now," the man told him. Wall said he was waiting for his friend to come back from the bathroom, but man insisted he had to buy a drink right away. When Wall continued to look for his friend, the employee physically attacked him:
After he cleaned the table, it looked as if he was headed back behind the bar when he came up to me and said "Either buy a drink or leave right now." Again shocked, I replied "I'm just waiting for my friend to come back from the bathroom." He responded, "I don't care, get a drink or leave right now." I said "Okay" and began texting. He walked away from me, then went and sat with his back to the bar as he stared me down. Being non-confrontational, I looked towards the bathroom, waiting to see my friend come out so that we could leave. I also took notice of how many of the people surrounding the bar and the club area didn't have drinks in their hands. I felt as if I was singled out. The common denominator, again, was that I was the only black person around. After staring me down for about 30 seconds, he walked back over and said "Are you going to buy a drink, or are you going to leave?" I replied, "As soon as my friend comes from the bathroom." Before I cold utter another word, he grabbed my right wrist and my left arm and threw them behind my head in an effort to constrain me, although I was speaking to him a calm and non-aggressive tone and didn't once even gesture. He then used excessive force to push me through the crown and out of the club while I was still in this "headlock" of sorts, before pushing me out of the front door. As soon as he grabbed me, I let my body go limp because with the degree of force he was already using, I didn't want him to think I was trying to fight back. I accepted that he was on an ego-trip, and let him guide me through the club in this position before pushing me out. I was completely shocked and more saddened that this was happening than angry.
When Wall tried to tell the bouncer what had happened, he waved him away and told him to get lost. Upset "that what I believed to have been blunt and undeniable segregation was taking place in an establishment in Raleigh, the city I was born, raised in, and love," Wall sought out a nearby police officer, who told him "this was a very unfortunate occurrence, but not an isolated instance":
She explained that this happens all the time, and that if she approached the bartender about it, he'd have witnesses that would corroborate whatever story he made up as to why he kicked me out in such an aggressive manner. She then explained that my options were limited because if she proceeded with getting statements from both of us and conducted an investigation, the end result could be worse for me: either it would get dismissed in court, or we would both be charged with what is the equivalent of "fighting" and both have a misdemeanor. She said "He probably has a few charges already, but you're young with a bright future ahead of you, and you don't want that on your record."
Wall wasn't sure "whether I should trust a police officer within the network of bouncers/officers who worked the many clubs/bars of Glennwood" until the man who threw him out stepped outside of the bar and he pointed him out to the officer, who approached him:
They talked for about 3 minutes before she came back to me and said, "I knew this was going to happen. Now, I don't believe him one bit, but he says that he has three people who witnessed you throw an elbow at him before he restrained you." Shocked is an understatement. As I said earlier, I talked in a non-confrontational, clam [sic] and respectful tone, and didn't even gesture when talking. There is no way that he could have perceived me as having thrown an elbow and I didn't understand how three people would lie and say that I did. I asked the officer about video camera footage. If the club used cameras, they would show the conversation, and his aggressiveness in constraining me despite me posing no threat and remaining calm throughout the conversation and his constraining me. She said that it would require a search warrant and that there was "No telling" how the video could be edited, tampered with, or even done away with before it would be required to be handed over to the investigators.
Wall was frustrated by the officer's complacency:
What troubled me about my conversation with the officer was that she seemed to assume the worst case scenario in every possible solution to my encounter. She kept talking about how much paper work would be involved, as if that were going to deter me from seeking justice. Still, it was 2am, and after speaking to both of my parents and my friends, I realized that justice couldn't be served that night. Because of the lack of witnesses, it would simply be my word versus his (and that of his three "witnesses"), which could potentially yield extremely negative consequences for me, even though I had done nothing wrong throughout the entirety of the ordeal.
After Wall told his family about his night, his 21-year-old cousin called him and asked the name of the bar that had thrown him out. She gasped when he told her it was Downtown Sports Bar and Grill, because she had been barred from entering the same spot earlier that night. "The only common denominator in her and my own dealings with the bar was one single factor: race," Wall wrote. "We were both African-Americans trying to enter and enjoy a bar that seemed to only welcome those not like us."
Since legal action seemed futile, Wall used his social media skills instead, tweeting and emailing his story to everyone he could think of. There are almost 200 comments on the post Christman wrote yesterday, many written by Raleigh residents who say they've been discriminated against because of their race. For example:
The same thing happened when my boyfriend (who is black), his 2 friends, (who are black), his other 2 friends (who are Iranian), and I (I'm mixed) went there. Except that a cop was standing right next to the bouncer and heard him say that we needed a membership to get in. I had been let in numerous times before when I went with my other friends, but this time got rejected. I was livid because that line is used when bouncers don't want to let someone in. And nowhere does it say membership is required to enter into Downtown Sports Bar. I've decided to boycott it.
I have experienced being turned away by the membership tactic. (I am black). Right after I was turned away three girls (all white) came up and went right in.
omgee, same thing happened to me on saturday! my friends always try to get me to go and I finally said yes. the first 3 [one mixed , 2 white] weren't carded; however me and the fifth friend were ! was told I was using a fake & dont even know the excuse she was given. we were both black, btw .
As a white female, I visited downtown sports a year ago and witnessed the EXACT same thing. I was horrified, tried talking to the bouncer (who didn't want to hear a word from me) and was pushed back into a crowded room. I have never been back.
The same thing happened to me and my friends at Downtown Sports Bar! My two friends and I, all of us white, got in no problem. However my boyfriend and his friend, both black, were turned away for not having on collared shirts. After they were denied entry, we stood outside and witnessed 5 white males being let in that had on regular t-shirts just like my friends did!!! Absolutely disgusting, I truly hope the news will do an investigation.
WOW…I had an issue with this place too…As I walked up i watched short white guy walk up to the black bouncer and whisper something…i kind of figured something was about to happen…I was not allowed in for the dumbest reason ever…."My Shirt was to long"…the damn shirt stopped at the top of my zipper and it was a tailored button up…i offered to tuck the shirt in and they still refuse to allow me in…i stood back shocked as two white guys with baggy jeans and sneakers walk in…i pointed out 2 guys with longer button ups than i had on and i was told they were allowed in earlier that day and we have a night dress code…i was pissed…my friend was said "just tell him he cant come in because he's black.
One early commenter, 21-year-old Karimah Shepherd, had a similar experience at the bar — down to the "membership" excuse, the furious manager, and the lackadaisical police response — and started a Facebook group after coming across Wall's story. Less than 24 hours later, it has almost 3,000 members. She told us that their goal is to garner media attention, and it's working: a local newspaper is planning a front page story, WRAL is investigating the incident, and a large protest at the bar is planned for next Saturday. Shepherd said at least 50 people have emailed her about their own horrible Downtown Sports Bar and Grill experiences. "It's shocking how much support we've gained in such a short time," she said, sounding overwhelmed.
The one local outlet that's covered the story, New Raleigh, identified the man who threw Wall out as Todd Chriscoe, the bar's manager. Chriscoe, whose name comes up often in the other commenters' complaints, is no stranger to the law: his rap sheet is peppered with misdemeanors and felonies. So why don't police take the numerous allegations against him more seriously?
The Federal Civil Rights Act guarantees all people the right to "full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin." (The image at left, taken from the bar's Facebook page, definitely toes this line.) Businesses can only reserve the right to refuse service in cases where a customer is threatening the safety and well-being of employees or other patrons. It shouldn't take a well-spoken Harvard kid to prove the bar's actions are illegal, but the movement he's sparked is inspiring. "The power of social media. The power of a generation mistakenly written off as apathetic. Thank you all so much," Wall tweeted yesterday. We'll be watching to see what happens.