Two young black women on their way to hit the R&B club scene decided to pop into a dive bar in Fresno, Calif., to sing karaoke on March 12, 2016. They put their name on the list and stood near the bar. After waiting around for a half hour or so, the Filipino man accompanying them asks how much longer it would be before women were called to sing.
A bartender informed the group of three that there was a two-drink minimum. The Filipino man ordered a drink, but the two women did not. The Filipino man then ordered a second drink. Again, the two women did not. And again, they asked when it would be the women’s turn to sing. The bartender told the women that their name was removed from the karaoke list because they hadn’t ordered anything and explained that the bar isn’t someplace they could just hang out.
Rather than order drinks or simply move along, the two women decided to protest. They argued there were other people in the bar that didn’t have drinks, and that they were being singled out for being black. The bartender asked them to leave. The women refused and instead continued to argue with the staff. Patrons at the bar offered to buy them drinks, but the bartender reportedly said “no,” because they had been asked to leave — most likely for acting hostile and belligerent. You don’t serve hostile and belligerent people alcohol, right?
An off duty waitress approached the women and kindly explained the rules of the bar and again, politely, asked them to leave. The women refused and accused the staff of being racist.
The door man/bouncer/bartender then approached the women, put his arms out and tried to herd the women toward the door, so the women started videotaping the interaction. Frustrated with the combative scene that these women were creating, the bouncer called the police. When the cops arrived, the women left peacefully — about three hours after they had first arrived.
Now, I’ve worked in restaurants and bars, and I can say with confidence that your average dive bar — especially one in a shit-hole town with a diverse population like Fresno — is only going to care about one color: green. If they had to ask the women to leave and call the cops — which scares away patrons and potential customers — the only conclusion I can draw is that these women were creating a pretty bad scene. I’m giving you the perspective of the small business, because nobody else appears willing to.
But the way the two women saw it is that they were being racially targeted, because they see everything framed in terms of black and white. And, considering their age and the disturbing emphasis of race equity (not racial equality) in schools these days, which focuses on narratives of so-called “white privilege,” I suspect these women have a very entitled view. In other words, they felt entitled to hang out in that business — or any business that they want to — because they’re black. The color of their skin means no establishment has the right to refuse them service for any reason. They wrote as much in articles in which they claimed they were kicked out of the bar solely for being black.
On March 24, articles they wrote about their “racist” event were published in three places simultaneously, like a launched attack on the small business. Medium published their story, written by them, with their own byline. The Huffington Post interviewed them but never bothered to ask them why didn’t just order a drink, or why they didn’t leave when they were asked to. Perhaps the HuffPo reporter, a white woman, feared such questions would be perceived as racist. And the website of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a powerful nationwide network of civil and constitutional rights lawyers, also published their story as a blog and in the ACLU’s summer 2016 newsletter.
You see, these women — Abre’ Conner and Novella Coleman — are young black attorneys for the ACLU of Northern California. They wrote for Medium:
The servers said it wasn’t about race. But for us, and for many other patrons, it was. The server who said it wasn’t about race wasn’t on the receiving end of the humiliation of being kicked out of a bar.
Privilege often blurs the blatant issues of race right in front of our eyes. [Their emphasis.]
We’re not the first people that this has happened to. But let’s be clear — no business can kick people out just because they’re Black.
The following month, in April of 2016, the women filed a Precomplaint Inquiry with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, oddly enough. Why that agency? They explained in the ACLU newsletter:
California’s anti-discrimination laws are even broader than federal laws. That’s why we’ve requested an official investigation by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), the agency charged with enforcing the state’s civil rights laws. There is a simple process in California for reporting discrimination, even without a lawyer — anyone can file a complaint with the DFEH. The DFEH can investigate unlawful discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations, and threats or acts of hate violence.
From here, the story seems to have disappeared. Perhaps all they wanted to do was bully the business. Maybe they were advised they didn’t have a case, or that it wasn’t the type of case the ACLU should be devoting its resources. Or maybe the business wrote them a check to make them go away.
I know the ACLU has done good work in defending the rights of individuals. But sometimes even good organizations can have bad actors. I can see why they hired these women. They’re young black women who are passionate about civil rights. But the ACLU is a civil and constitutional rights legal assistance organization, not a racial advocacy group. It’s one of the key things that separates them from the deplorable Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).
Free Speech for Blacks, But Not for ‘Haters’
The problem is that these women — or at least Conner — appears to value race first and rights second. Here’s the proof. In August 2017, Conner wrote an article for Yes! magazine in which she decried the ACLU’s defense of the Charlottesville “white supremacists'” right to free speech — or, as she calls it, “defending hate.”
… The ACLU takes the position that a threat to free speech anywhere will harm the progress of free speech and civil rights for groups that historically had been oppressed, as well. It has defended the constitutional rights of the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups in the past and our leaders have made it clear we will continue to do so in the future. …
In the wake of Charlottesville, the ACLU adopted a policy change to impose stricter screenings and take legal requests from white supremacist groups on a case-by-case basis. We will no longer represent hate groups that demonstrate with firearms. I appreciate this change.
But in the end, I’m not convinced that more speech that spreads hate and fulfills a white, racist, and divisive agenda in this country will bring about a better result for people like me, who are its targets. …
During my two years at the ACLU, … I represented students on a yearbook staff after their school district tried to censor their Black Lives Matter content from the yearbook. In another case, I advocated that a school district could not remove Black History Month paintings by a San Francisco-based artist solely because someone might be offended.
It feels good when I can use the First Amendment as a tool to ensure equality for people of color. …
Watching this resurgence of Confederate pride and flags across the country and hearing conversations that fail to recognize that these symbols are rooted in black dehumanization make navigating the space mentally and emotionally taxing. It makes me all the more committed to being true to my core racial justice values and true to the social justice community.
I have been outspoken within my office about what it means for me as a black attorney representing white supremacists. And my office has created a safe space for me to discuss how that feels.
How would the women who organized and memorialized the burial of their fallen Confederate kin feel about this?
ACLU is supposed to be a constitutional rights group for everyone, not a platform for racial equity activism. If they start putting race first and the constitution second, they will loose public support — and by “public” I mean white people.
Can’t help but wonder if the white attorneys that work with Conner and the ACLU spend an inordinate amount of time fearfully self-censoring for microaggressions that they’re told are imperceptible to themselves because of the “white privilege.”
And Now, For Her Next Act
Fast forward to today, and why Conner became of a subject of concern. The Mercury News of San Jose on Oct. 22 reported that Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) officials have decided to ban panhandling at its train stations across its Oakland-to-San Francisco route — but Abre Conner of the ACLU is threatening that any such attempt will be met with “legal hurdles.”
ACLU staff attorney Abre’ Conner stopped short of threatening to sue BART if the panhandling ban becomes a reality. But Conner said Tuesday that the ACLU, which last year took Sacramento to court over an anti-panhandling ordinance, has “made clear to BART that we are watching their actions.”
A few years ago, I found myself at a BART station in Oakland with luggage in tow. I had arrived at Oakland Airport and needed to get to San Francisco International. As I waited for the train in the outdoor station, I was continually approached by black men begging for money. Some seemed merely homeless, others seemed mentally off and somewhat aggressive. In sum, I didn’t feel safe.
Director Debora Allen, who has led the charge for the ban, said … actual legislation won’t come before the board until early next year at the soonest.
Still, Allen said she isn’t backing away from the issue, which has sparked passionate responses from some BART passengers, who say being routinely asked for money makes them feel unsafe.
“The riding public overwhelmingly is with me on this issue,” Allen said, citing emails and other feedback she heard when her proposal came up over the summer. “Riders consistently told me there were things they wanted changed on the trains, and this was one of many.”
To get a sense of what a BART station is like, watch the following video.
Once on the train, I observed more beggars roaming from train to train hitting people up for money. There was nothing we could do. We were a captured audience. The following video is a Rated G version of what I witnessed, and it focuses on just one group. There are many.
Perhaps this is why other transportation agencies have had success in passing panhandling bans, though generally such begging has been deemed protected under free speech laws. If a beggar approaches you on the street, you can walk away. But while waiting for or riding on public transport, you’re trapped.
According to BART’s lawyers, the agency does have the legal authority to ban solicitation in the “paid areas” of the system, meaning parts that are beyond the fare gates, like platforms and trains. That’s because the paid areas are not a “public forum,” BART attorneys wrote — unlike the “free areas” of the BART system, like plazas and station entrances, or city streets, the space at issue in the ACLU’s Sacramento case.
Oh, the Irony
As I read the Mercury story online, another news story aired on television showing a black fella in Brooklyn assaulting a white woman in a subway station. Apparently, he’s been terrorizing passengers for two years and has been arrested 20 times. He is suspected of committing 37 acts of criminal activity in the subway this year alone and has delayed some 700 trains during busy commuter hours, ABC News reported.
This fella’s latest attack was caught on video, and he was arrested. His victim on this day was apparently guilty of being a white female in public. Clearly, she’s totally unaware of her “white privilege.”