My name is Jonathan Wall, and I am a 21 year old black male from Raleigh, NC. I was born and raised here, and just a few weeks ago I graduated from Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA. This fall I’ll be headed to grad school at Harvard to get a Master’s degree in Education Policy and Management. I’m in Raleigh for the summer before heading off to grad school.
As the story begins, on last Saturday night around 12:30am, I and 2 other friends went to Downtown Sports Bar and Grill off of Glennwood Avenue. The night got interesting as soon as we got to the door, and the bouncer told us “you need a membership to come in tonight, I’ve never seen you here before.” My friend Chris and I looked at each other in curiosity, knowing that the establishment was a bar and not a club, and that people in line before us 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.
We were downstairs for all of ten minutes, when my two friends dispersed. My friend Chris went to the bathroom, and my friend Kristin went upstairs to get some fresh air. Only a few seconds after they left, what appeared to be a bartender came from behind the bar to clean drinks off of one of the tall bar tables that was near me. 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.
As he was walking me out, my friend Chris came out of the bathroom and ran up to where he we were, asking him what I did wrong. He didn’t reply. I had done nothing but suggest that I would wait for my friend to come from the bathroom and leave instead of purchasing a drink. After making sure I was all right, my friend and I went to the bouncer at the front door to try to tell him what had just happened and get an explanation. He waved us off and told us to just get away.
I walked up and down Glennwood Avenue looking for a police officer to talk to—again, not angry, but sad and shocked 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.
After about ten minutes and two redirections I was able to talk to the police sergeant, who was also on Glennwood. I explained to her everything in the previous paragraphs. She told me that 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.” I understood what she was saying, but wasn’t exactly sure whether I should trust a police officer within the network of bouncers/officers who worked the many clubs/bars of Glennwood. Just then, the man who threw me out came to the front door. I pointed him out to the officer, and she approached him to talk about the incident. 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 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. 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.
The next day, Sunday, my mother told my aunts and uncles about what happened and I found out something even more interesting. After my aunt told my 21-year-old cousin about what happened to me, my cousin called me immediately, requesting the name of the bar where this had happened. 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.
It is absolutely ridiculous that this still happens in America. It is even more ridiculous that it’s happening in Raleigh, North Carolina, one of the fastest growing and, increasingly, most diverse cities in America.
I talked to my attorney who said, simply, that although what happened was undoubtedly wrong and unjust, the fact of the matter was what I had assumed before: it would be an uphill battle to reach any kind of legal resolution. She then suggested that I contact the I-Team Troubleshooter to see if there was any possible solution when the media asked for answers as to why and how this was allowed to occur. She also suggested that I check whether my and my cousin’s stories were not isolated instances, and whether media coverage would expose more stories of racism and exclusion at this establishment.
I thank you in advance for reading this, and for any help or assistance that you may be able to offer.