Two American Civil Liberties Union lawyers say they were kicked out of a central Fresno bar earlier this month for being black.
Operators of The Brig, a dive bar near East Gettysburg and North Blackstone avenues, say they are devastated by the allegations and are asking for an apology.
Abre’ Conner, who lives in Fresno, and Novella Coleman, who lives in the Bay Area, went to The Brig on March 12 looking to sing a karaoke rendition of TLC’s “Waterfalls.” They weren’t drinking that night but were with a male colleague who purchased two drinks.
Before their song was called, a bartender told them they had to buy drinks to sing. Then a second bartender told them to buy drinks or leave – and here’s where the two sides dispute what happened, which was caught on grainy, silent security video.
Conner said they weren’t told about any requirement to buy drinks when they walked in. She said she saw lots of people without drinks and asked the bartender why he was singling out her and Coleman.
I’ve never been kicked out of an establishment because of the color of my skin.
ACLU lawyer Abre’ Conner
“They said to us at that point they didn’t have enough time to look at everybody else,” she said.
Conner, who is 5-foot-4, said the large bartender pushed into her repeatedly to force her out of the bar.
“That’s when he started body bumping me,” she said. “I was trying to move out of the way. I said to him, ‘Are you pushing me?’ and he said, ‘Yeah, but not with my hands.’ ”
“Then I said, ‘Don’t touch me.’ ”
The bartender got upset at that point and walked away to call the police, she said.
Representatives for The Brig tell a different story. Monrae English, a lawyer retained by manager Heidi Wilson, spoke to reporters outside the bar Thursday afternoon.
English said the allegations are shocking for the business, which has received threatening phone calls since the ACLU lawyers posted their story on the website Medium.
“It had nothing to do with race at all,” she said, noting that there were other black patrons in the bar that night. “The Brig is not that kind of business.” Conner and Coleman’s male colleague was not asked to leave. (An earlier version of the story incorrectly reported the colleague was black, based on an erroneous description by Fresno police.)
English said Conner was the aggressor and that the video clearly shows her chest bumping the bartender. English said the bartender didn’t yell but was talking over the karaoke speaker, which they were standing next to.
It had nothing to do with race at all.
Monrae English, lawyer for The Brig
English said patrons are given around 30 minutes to buy drinks before bartenders ask them to leave, and that the other people Conner said didn’t have drinks were recent arrivals. The bartender kicked out a man later that night for loitering.
“They are misguided if they think they were the only ones required to buy drinks,” she said.
Fresno police spokesman Lt. Joe Gomez said businesses have the right to refuse service to anyone as long as they don’t discriminate against certain groups of people.
“The officers didn’t determine there was anything discriminatory that they saw,” he said.
Conner disagrees. She said she won’t apologize and hasn’t ruled out taking action, including litigation. She wants people to know they should call out racism when it happens.
“I’m from the South, so I’m used to microaggressions,” she said, “but I’ve never been kicked out of an establishment because of the color of my skin.”