ACLU Attorneys Say Dive Bar Bounced Them for Being Black
A dive bar had no idea it was dealing with two accomplished civil-rights attorneys when it kicked them out for what the women say was racism.
Abre’ Conner claims Fresno, California, dive bar, The Brig, booted her and fellow ACLU of Northern California attorney Novella Coleman because they refused to buy more drinks as they waited to sing karaoke.
The Brig’s mandatory drinks rule, they say, seemed to apply only to them: the lone black patrons in the mullet-loaded pool hall.
“It demonstrated to us that ... there’s a lot of work that needs to be done when it comes to business owners understanding you can’t kick someone out of a bar just for being black,” Conner told The Daily Beast.
“It was very embarrassing to have people yell at us … while all we really wanted to do was sing our song, ‘Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls,’” said Conner, who in 2013 was named one of NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s top attorneys under 40.
“We’re being yelled at, told we can’t bring up race, told we have to leave unless we purchase more drinks,” added the 28-year-old barrister.
When they didn’t, bartenders called the cops to remove the duo. (The women chronicled the March 12 incident in a post on Medium.com.)
Conner told The Daily Beast things got so heated that a male bouncer “body bumped” her to force her out.
“Another bartender lunged at us within inches of our faces and shouted ‘Buy drinks!’” Conner wrote in her post. “Our group of three had already bought two drinks. But it quickly became clear to us that we were unwelcome in the bar.”
Heidi Wilson, a manager for The Brig, denied the counselors were barred from singing because of racism. She called Conner’s claims “a totally false accusation.”
“They were asked to leave because they didn’t purchase anything. They were loitering. They wanted to do karaoke for free,” Wilson told The Daily Beast.
“We have a mixed culture here. Everybody has a wonderful time. This whole thing is absolutely false,” she added.
Wilson said her bartender never “body bumped” Conner; rather, Conner “chest butted my bartender and we had to call the police on them.”
“The police were on our side and had to escort them out,” Wilson told The Daily Beast.
Wilson said the ACLU lawyers “turned it into a racial thing and it has absolutely nothing to do with that.”
“It doesn’t matter what nationality you are, you just have to buy something,” she added.
The Fresno Police Department did not return messages left by The Daily Beast.
Despite the tavern’s and the attorneys’ conflicting accounts, people are bombarding The Brig’s Yelp page with nasty reviews.
Conner said she isn’t ruling out legal action against the bar, while Wilson vowed, “We’re going to countersue them for slandering our name.”
“Wow. Racism is alive and well in 2016,” one commenter wrote. “I hope those two beautiful Black Women, who happen to be attorneys, take you to court and take you for everything you’re worth...which isn't much.”
Another reviewer wrote: “This place is run by White Surpremacists [sic]. If you're black or brown they will kick you out. Recommended for people with tiny brains only.”
The dispute started around 11 p.m., after Conner and Coleman, who had been waiting more than 30 minutes, asked when their song would be called. Afterward, an employee approached them and said they needed to buy booze first.
Conner informed the barkeep she had already purchased drinks. “They told us we weren’t able to sing unless we purchased more,” the lawyer told The Daily Beast. “There was a rule that each person had to have a drink in their hands in order to stay in the bar.”
“We did a survey of the room and realized that was not the case for everyone,” she added. “There were many people in the bar who had no drinks at all.”
Conner claims one of the four white bartenders—a tall, bulky man—demanded they leave and “started body bumping me to try to push me out of the bar.”
“I was like, ‘Please stop touching me.’ He got upset and called the police,” she said.
Another off-duty server allegedly tried to convince Conner and Coleman to leave. In response, the women pointed out staff were only enforcing the rule against the only two black patrons in the bar.
“She started yelling at us and told us it wasn’t fair to bring up race,” Conner told The Daily Beast.
Conner said that once cops arrived, other customers rallied to their defense, saying the allegedly racist rule didn’t exist on other nights. She said patrons also tried ordering drinks for the attorneys so the bartenders would let them stay, but The Brig still allegedly refused the women service.
Officers forced Conner and Coleman to leave, saying they were trespassing because the business had a right to refuse service.
“It was clear this was about race,” Conner said. “It didn’t really make sense. There were people doing karaoke who didn’t have drinks. People standing around who didn’t have drinks.
“But four white employees told us if we didn’t have drinks, we’d have to leave,” she added.