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Man alleging discrimination at Raleigh bar says it was 'demoralizing'

Posted June 22, 2012
Updated July 7, 2014

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— A Raleigh man who says he was thrown out of a downtown bar last weekend because he is black told reporters Friday that the experience was "demoralizing" and that he's speaking out about it in an effort to create a dialog about racial discrimination in the 21st century.

Downtown Sports Bar and Grill The Downtown Sports Bar and Grill statement

"What was so demoralizing about this reality is that I have worked to do everything right," Jonathan Wall, a graduate assistant at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said. "I have studied hard. I have worked hard. I have served others. Yet, I was treated as if I had done something wrong."

Wall says he and a friend went to The Downtown Sports Bar and Grill on Glenwood Avenue early Sunday morning and that they were initially told they couldn't go in because the bar required a membership.

Once inside, Wall says, he was quickly confronted by the bar's general manager, who told him he had to "buy a drink or leave." Wall says there were no other black patrons in his vicinity.

When he explained that he was waiting for his friend to use the restroom, he says, the manager put him in a headlock and forced him out of the bar.

"It was shock, more than anything," Wall said. "It was like one of those feelings, like, 'Is this really happening?'"

Man speaks publicly about claim of racial discrimination Man speaks publicly about claim of racial discrimination

Walls said he told a police sergeant on patrol in the area about the incident but did not file a report.

The bar denies Wall's claims in a statement released Friday afternoon.

"Mr. Wall was not roughed up or improperly treated. Mr. Wall was not the subject of racial discrimination," the statement reads.

It continues, saying that Wall "took advantage of a crowded door situation" after being told he could not enter without being a member or the guest of a member.

William Potter, the bar's attorney, says that because of its liquor license, by law, the bar is a private club that limits access to members and their guests.

Alesia Vick Jonathan Wall press conference

"This business does limit the use to members and bona fide guests, as required by N.C. ABC law," the statement reads. "Mr. Wall was ultimately asked to leave, because he was not a member or guest."

About 20 people, including family members, a representative for the state NAACP, and others who say they have had similar experiences at The Downtown Sport Bar and Grill, gathered outside the State Capitol to show their support for Wall at Friday's news conference.

"It all comes back to the color of Jonathan Wall's skin," his attorney, Alesia Vick, said. "Our goal is to spread local awareness and for citizens of Raleigh, our state and our country to speak up and out against discrimination in any form."

"We implore the Raleigh Police Department, City Council, Downtown (Raleigh) Business Alliance and area chambers of commerce to take a stand against discrimination," she added. "Please do not allow commerce to trump individual rights. This is the 21st century, and this generation will not sit quietly."

Wall, a graduate of Morehouse College in Atlanta who is attending Harvard University in the fall for graduate school, has received an outpouring of support after his story appeared on a colleague's blog.

The blog post prompted social media and email campaigns, and, Vick says, dozens of other peoplecame forward, saying they, too, were treated differently at the sports bar because of their race.

Plans for a protest at the bar Saturday night have been put on hold because of safety and security concerns due to the high number of people wanting to attend.

Forestine Parker-Fenner, who applied for a permit for 20-30 people to picket, says the state NAACP is helping plan for a bigger protest for possibly next weekend, when they are expecting thousands to show up.

Wall says he has also received countless emails and Facebook messages from people around the world supporting him.

"I realize I'm not the first person to speak out about this treatment (at the bar)," he said. "I'm just the first person who's been listened to."


This story is closed for comments.

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  • promethazine codeine lover Jun 25, 2012

    so... WRAL has a investigation back in 2001 which shows that a white couple with no membership can get in, and a black couple with no membership was denied.. (Both wearing identical clothing)

    Anyone else still defending their membership policy?? It looks very selective on the WRAL investigation back in 2001.

  • rpd911 Jun 22, 2012

    If one looks at WRALs nightlife section they can see multiple photos from that bar with black people in the bar. This is a non-issue, next non story please.

  • gervin Jun 22, 2012

    What time has it been early evening, before midnight and was the kitchen open or were you trying to get in "in the early morning hours" too? (after drinking Lord only knows how much at some other bar and leaving there for whatever reason)
    June 22, 2012 7:48 p.m.

    The few times I have gone it has been close to or after midnight, and not after "drinking Lord only knows how much." There was a dress code sign near the door, nothing indicating membership was needed.

  • quaten Jun 22, 2012

    I wouldn't want to be a member. That place sounds creepy.

  • gervin Jun 22, 2012

    If you've gotten in without membership, then it is your legal responsibility to call the authorities on the place. Did you do so?
    June 22, 2012 7:40 p.m

    The link you provided gives a list of mandatory requirements needed to qualify as a "private club." This bar did not fulfill those requirements. Again, the "membership" issue is an excuse used to turn certain customers away.

  • Chrisatunc21 Jun 22, 2012

    Paulej, yes, he could have been tossing out bathroom freeloaders and he could have known everybody else as members. I think you're fishing, but nonetheless, has the bartender or his council offered this explanation yet? If that was my reason for wanting to toss a person from my bar (ignoring the force) then that's the 1st thing I'd say if I was the bartender. I'd be interested to see if there was a stream of others chirping about how they too were thrown out for the bathroom reason in the past.

    If we believe that Mr Wall was waiting for his friend to use the bathroom, and if we're decent people, would we not have relaxed for a few minutes and then re-approached the pair when the friend exited the bathroom?

    Making up rules to selectively screen people (didn't happen in this situation) and selectively enforcing rules that aren't enforced a 'very high percentage of the time' (which I believe did) is discriminatory. This situation may not stand up in court but the racism here is clear.

  • driverkid3 Jun 22, 2012

    OK, I just went through the pictures of Downtown Night Life, took a while to get to the Downtown Sports Bar pages, but I DID see people that were of more races than white in there. How did the people that were undeniably Black in the pictures get in since they are "RACIST"? The appeared to be having a rather good time and not under any pressure to leave.

    Only other thing I can say is I hope I didn't look as silly and vacuous as some of these folks back in the year. Good grief!

  • DontVote4LiarsCheatsOrThieves Jun 22, 2012

    I think the bar is about to make some changes too, especially if - as hmmmm says, their webpage doesn't say they are a "membership" bar because that's all their liquor permit authorizes them to be.

  • itom68 Jun 22, 2012

    He was asked to leave, snuck in and was taken out in a headlock. Sounds like his pride was hurt.

    Funny stuff

  • DontVote4LiarsCheatsOrThieves Jun 22, 2012


    Here is a copy of their liquor permit...


    It clearly shows they are a membership private club. If they are not following all of the statutes required for that license, i.e. NC General Statutes Chapter 18B(c), then someone call the cops on them.

    Dredging it all through the media just ticks people off because the media rarely includes all the information.