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The Whitewashing Of Main Street: People Of Color Harassed At Two Local Bars

The Whitewashing Of Main Street: People Of Color Harassed At Two Local Bars image The Whitewashing Of Main Street: People Of Color Harassed At Two Local Bars image
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by Barbara Ransby Thirty ycars ago this spring in Grccnsboro, Norlh Carolina, African American college students launched one of the most pivotal phascs of the modem Black Freedom Movcmcnt - the desegregation sit-ins. The premisc of these prótesis was that African Americans, like all olher Amcricans, should have the right to ulilizc public facilities and accommodations and be served in stores, restaurants and hotels, like any olher patrón, regardless of race. These seemingly moderate demands met with staunch and often violent opposition from the southem white power structure. Desegregation pretesters were kickcd, spat upon, had lit cigaretles gouged into thcir backs and hot coffee thrown into their faces. Four years later the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passcd and in 1965 the Voting RighLs Act bccamc law. These two major pieces of civil rights legislation ostensibly guaranteed the basic civil rights of all citizens rcgardlcss of skin color. Thrcc decades later, however, in more subüc guises, people of color, the poor and Ihchomclcssareslillbcingroutinclyexcludcd from public spacc, harasscd for demanding thcir rights, launtcd with racial epithets, and even thrcatened with physical and pólice violenceiftheydon'tremember their "place." The struggle then was focuscd on racial justice. The siuggle now is focused on racial and economie juslice. On two separate occasions in July and August, Black and Latino patrons of two Main Street restaurants, the Full Moon and the Quality Bar, reporlcd bcing harasscd, insulta!, and thrcatencd wilh arrest before bcing kickcd out of these two establishments. On July 20, during the Art Fair, two African American and two Latino U-M gradúate students along wilh two othcr Latinos went lo the Full Moon. An individual in the group politely asked two nearby waitpersons (one white male and one white femalc) if il was possiblc to get service ihcre. The male waitperson said they could not be servcd at that table unless ihey ordered food. The group lold the waitperson that thcy intcndcd to order food. The waitperson then argu-cd ihat ihey could not bc served at ihc table becausc ihere were no chairs and that it was not his problcm to find chairs. Without provocaüon the female waitperson said if the group caused any problems they would bc thrown out. As ihc group of Latinos and Blacks waitcd to bc seated at a table with chairs, scveral groups of white patrons were seated bcfore them. Chris Lombardo, the manager of the Full Moon, abruptly appcarcd at the tablc whcre Ihc studcnls sal down and without explanat ion told the m to cave or the pólice would bc cal led to remove them. The students insisted they had as much right as anyone lo bc served. Lombardo called the Ann Arbor pólice. The pólice arri ved and said that the group would have to leave givcn the management's supposcd right to refuse service. The pólice were askcd if they knew why all of the group members were being forced to leave ralher than any one person with whom the manager might have had difficulty. The studcnls explaincd to the pólice and Lombardo thal givennojustification itwascleartothem that they were being racially discrim inaled against and thcir civil rights needed protection. The officers said thal the matter could only be pursued in court and e veryone would have to leave. The pólice agreed lo write a report. The officers did nol charge the students with any offense. According to observers, the police seemed to want lo keep things unofficial and informal. The students objected to this approach, arguing thal if the law had been broken, they should have been chargcd and arrested, if nol, ihey were being unduly harassed. As they were leaving, theownerof the bar, Andy Gulvczan, stated to Cynthia Hernández, a Latino patrón, "If you bring Blacks here, thal's what they get," followed up by the threat that "this time they're leaving through the door, the next time it' 11 be through the window." Anothcr Black patrón, Phil Colé, and a student of East Indian descent, who were standing nearby but not involved in the verbal exchange, were also arbitrarily askcd to leave. The victims of this incident have since filed a discrimination complaint with the Ann Arbor Human Rights Department. On August 3 a similar incident occurred at the Quality Bar, one block from the Full Moon on Main Street. In this incident a large predominantly white group was meeting informally at the Quality Bar to plan a high school reunión. Cameron Moody, chairperson of his Ann Arbor high school reunión committee and his brother, Corey , both Black men were part of the group. Two Latinos, also there for the reunión activities at a nearby table, were, for some undetermined reason, being forced to leave by the the Special Problems Unit of the Ann Arbor Pólice Patrol División. (The Special Problems Unit was created in 1989 in response to "individuals and fights in the LibertyMaynard area and to cope with summertime problems," according to pólice Lieutenant Tinsey. The unit, (see A2 BARS, page 15) Concerned Citizens Poster STOP RACISM and BOYCOTT mulooN AND THE gdti WHITEWASHING (from page one) consisting of five officers and one supervisor, is a branch of the patrol división and this year became an "ongoing part" of the división.) The two Blacks were ihen singled out by the pólice and also ordered to leave, allegedly for being rowdy and drunk. Neither of the two African American men had been drinking. As in the Full Moon incident, the pólice were called but did not makc an arrest and refused to give the two men being accused of being drunk a requested sobriety test. The pólice officers involved refused to give their namcs. According to Cameron Moody, "We continued asking what we had done and the pólice would only respond that we had to leave immediately. Ironically as we stood there talking to the pólice, an extremely drunk white man was being carried out by a friend. One of my fellow white class members who was not being thrown out, said to the pólice, 'Look al this drunk person being carried out.'" The pólice responded with "shut up." The entire class reunión committee then left the bar and went directly toCity Hall to make a complainL The officers there refused to take a complainl. The entire incident is now under internal investigation by the pólice department, and the two African American men who were victims of this treatment are contemplating a lawsuiL The Main Street incidents are as blatant and dramatic as the policies of exclusión that prevailed in the south in the Jim Crow era. In a concerted effort to give Main Street and Ann Arbor's central business district a "face-lift," local elites are attempting to "clean up" the area. In the eyes of many local, white merchants, cleaning up means eliminating unsightly spectacles which may make suburban patrons feel "uncomfortable," such as homeless people scavenging boules out of public trash cans or large groups of people of color socializing. The treatment received by the Black and Latino students is not an uncommon occurrence in Ann Arbor and typifies the neo-racist realities of the last 1 0 years. The message is "It's not because you are a person of color, really. It's just you're too this or too that, or not enough of something else." And when the facade breaks down, the same oíd vulgar racism, sexism and classism lies beneath the surface. Fortunately in these cases the victims are not simply accepting the incidents without a fighL Concerned Citizens of Ann Arbor has formed to urge Ann Arborites to boycott the Quality Bar and the Full Moon to protest these incidents. Complaints have been filed wilh the pólice department, the Ann Arbor Human Rights Department and the Michigan Civil Rights Commission. On Monday, August 20, a press conference was held in front of the Full Moon. Individuals and representatives of local organizations such as the Homeless Action Committee, the United Coalition Against Racism, and Socially Active Latino Students Association, made statements of support for the boycott. According to Roderick Linzie, one of the members of Concerned Citizens: "We won ' t allow this to be couched as two isolated incidents. We are outraged by this and the larger paitern of racist treatment meted out to people of color and poor people in this town on a regular basis." In an open letter issued by Concemed Citizens of Ann Arbor, Todd Shaw, an organizer, calis for the elimination of the pólice Special Problems Unit which, he says, harasses youth, especially young Black men and women in Ann Arbor. Concerned Citizens is responding to "an unholy alliance which exists between merchants and pólice, which raises serious questions as to whether or not the police understand or accept their responsibility to uphold the law and protect the rights of the public at large, not just the monetary interest of the merchants," according to Daniel Holliman, a Concerncd Citizens member. "This makes Main Street, as well as other parts of Ann Arbor unwelcome - or worse, unsafe - for all people of color. Ann Arbor's homeless population, for example, who are disproportionately Black, are constantly harassed by pólice, particularly if they are in the Main Street area. This type of harassmentseems tobea legitimizedpartof therenovation and 'beautification' of Main Street and the downtown área." As Gretchen López, a victim of the Full Moon incident points out, il is not only college students, but more often poor, working class and homeless people who bear the brunt of harassment and intimidation from the pólice and local merchants who deern them "bad for business." As the ad hoc committee's literature suggests, we have to create the kind of response network and effective boycott campaigns which will make racism "bad for business." The response to these incidents represents a unique opportunity for people of color, and progressive, activist Ann Arbor citizens and others to advance the cause of social justice. Concemed Citizens is asking the community to: 1 ) support the boycott of The Full Moon and the Quality Bar and the other establishments owned by these merchants. (Andy Gulvezan, the owner of the Full Moon, owns The Flame, City Grill, and The Monkey Bar. Main Street Ventures, which owns Quality Bar, also owns Gratzi, Maude's and The Real Seafood Co.); 2) support the cali for the elimination of the pólice Special Problems Unit; 3) support the Homeless Action Committee's demands; 4) report all racist incidents to the Ann Arbor Human Rights Department, the Michigan Civil Rights Commission or the Anti-Police Brutali ty Committee of the United Coalition Against Racism at 764-2228. For more information contact the BakerMandela Center for Anti-Racist Education at 936-1809. (Editor' s note: When asked to comment on the incidents of Jidy 20 and August 3, Main Street Venture ' s spokesperscn Mike Gibbons, said "I don't understand why the incident hos become an incident. Five people were taken out of the bar for being drunk and disorderly." AGENDA also attempted to contact Andy Gulvezan, and the Ann Arbor Pólice for comment. At press time there was no response from either of them.)