North Carolina bar faces firestorm for alleged racism
“What makes me so undesirable as a patron?” Jonathan Wall is asking. It’s a question that has gotten increasing amounts of attention since his story went online earlier this week.
Wall, a 21-year-old grad student, posted his account of an ugly encounter with employees at the Downtown Sports Bar & Grill in Raleigh, N.C. on a former instructor’s blog, leading to more stories coming out alleging racial discrimination by the venue.
Wall, who is black, says he almost wasn’t allowed into the bar at all when he went there last week with two friends, one white and one black; an employee had told him he needed a membership to get in before relenting. At one point, he says, he was alone and was told to buy a drink or leave. According to him, things escalated shortly thereafter:
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.
At a press conference Friday, the employee was identified as the bar’s owner, Todd Chriscoe, who had been the subject of an investigation by WRAL-TV in Raleigh 11 years ago, after the station found his employees treated white customers more hospitably than black customers, offering a white couple memberships after they entered the bar. A black couple, by comparison, had to come back during daytime hours and then wait three days before obtaining a membership.
“You guys are trying to make it out to be a racist thing and we’re not racist at all,” he told the station at the time. “What we are is an extremely private club, and we hammer people on the dress code because we want to have a very upscale, nice environment.”
In a statement this week, (PDF) the bar denied Wall’s allegations that he was “roughed up or improperly treated” and said state law compelled it to require memberships.
The bar’s attorney, William Potter, told WRAL Saturday that Wall “took advantage of a crowded door situation” when he got in without having a membership, and said that on any Friday night, 20 to 30 percent of the bar’s clientele is people of color.
“Any suggestion the business is racist is foolish,” he said.
Video from WRAL on the story is below:
Image via Agence France-Presse