Raleigh, N.C. — 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.
"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?'"
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.
"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 people, like Colin Okoye, came forward, saying they, too, were treated differently at the sports bar because of their race.
"I proceeded to the bar, and other people were tended to," Okoye said. "Not one person came up to me and asked if I wanted anything to drink or eat."
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."