By Arturo R. García
Over the past couple of days, it’s become clear that Jonathan Wall is not alone.
Wall’s experience at Downtown Sports Bar and Grill in Raleigh, N.C., has garnered attention from the likes of MSNBC after being posted by a former instructor, leading to a protest against the restaurant this Saturday.
The story is something out of the Jim Crow era: last week, Wall, a Raleigh native due to start grad school at Harvard this fall, and two friends went to the bar and were told by a bouncer that they needed “memberships” to be allowed in. The people in front of them, Wall says, were let in without a hitch. The bouncer ultimately relented after being approached by two police officers. Two members of Wall’s party – Wall and one of his friends – are black.
“This was the first interesting ordeal of the night,” Wall says, “but not the last.”
At one point, Wall was alone at his table when an employee told him to buy a drink or leave.
“I’m just waiting for my friend to come back from the bathroom,” Wall said.
“I don’t care,” the employee replied. “Get a drink or leave right now.” Wall says he noticed he was the only black person in the area at the time. Shortly after the first confrontation, Wall says, things got violent:
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.
After catching up with his black friend outside the club and being dismissed by the bouncer, Wall says he told a police sergeant, who called the attack on him “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.”
As if on cue, the employee who threw Wall out appeared, and told the sergeant he had three witnesses saying they saw Wall throw an elbow at him. When Wall raised the possibility of using security footage to plead his case, he says the sergeant continued to dissuade him, saying there was “no telling” how it would be tampered with.
Wall says he walked away from the situation that night, but upon sharing the story with his family the next day, he discovered his cousin had a similar run-in at the venue:
I told her the name, and she gasped before telling me that earlier that night, she and group of 4 of her friends had tried to go to the same bar (Downtown Sports Grill and Bar) but were told by the bouncer at the front door “I’ve never seen y’all here before. You can’t come in.” Confused, she asked “What?” and he replied “You’re not allowed in here because I’ve never seen you before.” My cousin didn’t feel like arguing or being somewhere she didn’t feel welcome so she and her friends simply walked away. Still, the only common denominator in her and my own dealings with the bar was one single factor: race. We were both African-Americans trying to enter and enjoy a bar that seemed to only welcome those not like us.
Within hours of Wall’s story going online, the restaurant’s Yelp rating took a tremendous hit, with several people posting 1-star reviews and linking back to the original post. Several people have also come forward with stories of their own ugly encounters with bar staff:
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. I asked to see their membership cards and they looked at me like I was crazy. The security guard let me know that he’s never seen me before, and he see them all the time, that’s why I could not come in. I kept looking at the officer standing about two feet away from him, but she did nothing. I tried to raise action, and consulted a lawyer, but she told me I would have no case.
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.
I know this young man, Jonathan Wall, and if ever one was going to class up a sports bar in the entertainment capital of a two block stretch of pavement & half-full storefronts that is the urban, urbane utopia that is Raleigh, NC, USA it would be Jonathon. Forgive me but I know this area well and I know his treatment is not at all unique. They call it controlling the “atmosphere”. I call it racism. Potato, potahto.