Two Lawyers Walk Into a Bar. And Get Kicked Out for Being Black.

This piece was originally published at the ACLU of Northern California's Medium page. 

We began the evening on a quest for a good karaoke night and went to a bar in Fresno, California, called The Brig.

After waiting for more than half an hour to sing, we started to wonder when our number would be called. We planned to sing a hip hop and R&B hit from the ’90s  —  TLC’s Waterfalls.

But before our song was called, a bar employee came up and said we had to buy drinks to sing karaoke. Another bartender lunged at us within inches of our faces and shouted, “Buy drinks!”

Our group of three had already bought two drinks. But it quickly became clear to us that we were unwelcome in the bar.

A second bartender  —  a very tall and large man  —  shouted louder and louder that we were loitering and that the bar wasn’t a hangout place. Over and over again he pushed his body up against Abre’ — who is just 5 feet, 4 inches tall — to force her out of the bar.

After Abre’ repeatedly resisted, saying, “Don’t touch me,” he shouted that he was calling the police and stormed off.

Abre' Conner and Novella Coleman

An off-duty server came over to try to smooth things over. We explained that we’d been removed from the karaoke list before we were even told what the rule was. We explained that several other people in the bar didn’t have drinks in their hand. She said the rule was just about business but showed no interest in enforcing it against anyone else. Instead she tried to convince us to leave. We pointed out that the bar staff was only using the rule against us, and we seemed to be the only two Black people in the bar.

But the server yelled back, “It’s not fair for you to bring up race!”

Of course it’s fair to bring up race.

Let’s recap. Four white employees at a bar in Fresno called the police to kick out two Black women (who happen to be ACLU attorneys) and who appeared to be the only Black people there.

When the police arrived, several customers explained to the officers that the bar staff were enforcing the rule against us only. Some told the police that a one-drink rule did not exist. Others even tried to buy us drinks. But the bartenders wouldn’t let them.

And still, the police forced us  —  two Black women in the bar  —  to leave.

Police departments are supposed to enforce criminal laws and threats to public safety, not enforce personal biases.

The bartender and police claimed to be exercising the business’ supposed “right” to refuse service. This sounds too much like when the country still had “colored” sections and racially segregated water fountains. But this happened in March 2016.

Businesses actually do not have a legal right to refuse service to anyone or treat people differently based on race.

Since a 1964 U.S. Supreme Court decision, it has been clear that federal law prohibits businesses from discriminating on the basis of race. This case confirmed that a restaurant in the segregated Deep South could not refuse to serve Black patrons. And that ruling’s legacy means that, today, it’s against the law for a bar in Fresno to force us, two Black women, to leave over a one-drink rule that the bar only applied to us.

California’s anti-discrimination laws are even stronger. The California legislature passed the Unruh Civil Rights Act in 1959 to protect people against discrimination by businesses. Under this law, businesses in California cannot refuse service or entry on the basis of race and other protected categories. 
That law has been in place since 1959. And yet, in 2016, this state law was violated by the four white employees at the Fresno bar and by the police officers who allowed themselves to be tools to enforce private prejudice.

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.

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.

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Oh for GODS SAKE! No it isn't right for you to bring up the race card. Get over yourselves both of you! If the police were called and you were asked to leave then I am sure it was with good reason! So flipping sick of this crap every day - WAHHH I'm black so you can't be mean to me. Like I told someone once who accused me of being a racist when I hadn't said A WORD about race - "no stop and think that maybe I don't like you because you are an A&&hole - it's got nothing to do with the color of your skin"


It's funny how cowards like love to say all this ignorant crap, but want to remain hidden.. That's all


You're racist as fuck.


I find it interesting that if it were two white lawyers getting the same treatment in a more "black" area there would be little if anything said. There might even be comments made like "Those cracker's deserve what ever they get."


Except it never seems to happen to two white lawyers...


I'll give you $10 if you find me even one example of this nonexistent "white lawyers get thrown out of karaoke for no reason" hypothetical you just proposed.


Take them to court!! That is in no way constitutional or morally right!!!!


OF COURSE the ultra liberal group aclu lawyers day they were thrown out cause of race! Thatms their FAV accussation. Those 2 female lawyers make me sick. The entire aclu is deplorable, unless your looking to sue to people who work.


I wish the aclu would b abolished. It's such a disgrace. Im positive those female lawyers who work at the aclu, prob go into many many places SEARCHING for a place to b racist towards them just so they can sue for discrimination.

I would bet my life the workers at the bar were in the right. The females just want trouble so they can sue.

They prob go to a different bar, or restaurant every nite praying that they are discriminated against


Ironically, just hearing about this.
I don't like it at all...But I DO note that the crowd was not ok with the way the staff was acting, told the police that the one-drink rule was being selectively enforced, and tried to buy drinks for the women.
So maybe we've gotten to the point where the majority of white people think racism is unfair. They get angry WHEN they see blatant examples? It's just...getting them to see the rest of the racism iceberg?
Y'all have a good day, and keep up the good work.


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