Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Under the Gun

Under the gun

By going after Park 6’s liquor license, the city is putting its own actions up for review

The same group of city officials that decided to try and take a Sixth Street bar’s liquor license will now act as jury to take that license.

The city’s Public Safety and Licensing Committee will stand in judgment of Thomas Holmes and his Park 6 bar at the corner of Park and Sixth streets in Downtown Racine. This is the same five-member committee that unanimously voted to send Park 6 to a “due-process hearing” to possibly take the bar’s liquor license. Their decision is finalized by the entire City Council, but only the committee considers testimony presented for and against the bar.

Think about that for a second. It’s like the District Attorney’s office filing charges against someone and then acting as the person’s jury. If you build the case against someone, you’re going to be inclined to believe that case. Holmes and Park 6, like several other city bars that have had their licenses revoked, are facing a stacked deck.

The case against Holmes is suspect. The city alleges the Park 6 owner has a difficult time controlling his large crowds on Friday and Saturday nights, particularly at bar-closing time. A large number of people gather at the intersection of Park and Sixth streets and police are routinely called to move the crowd along. (Heaven forbid too many people, or at least people of color, spend money in Downtown Racine.)

The situation turned dangerous on May 20 when a stray bullet struck a security officer outside of Park 6. While initial reports suggested suspects were arrested in a car stopped in Kenosha after the incident, the shooting remains under investigation and no charges have been filed. In short, police don’t know what happened that night.

Meanwhile, Holmes has taken extraordinary steps to address city concerns about his crowds. He’s raised his minimum age to 25 years old, installed an extensive video camera system and implemented ID checkers at the door. He also has changed how he lets his crowds out at night to minimize the number of people gathering on Sixth Street. He’s done everything the city asks, but apparently it’s not enough.

The Insider New, the local branch of the NAACP and supporters of the bar believe the city is placing unreasonable demands on Park 6. They want the bar to not only take care of their customers inside their premises, but outside on the street, as well. That’s an unfair burden and expense to place on any business.

Holmes himself expressed frustration at the difficulty of controlling crowds on the sidewalks outside of his bar. The Park 6 security staff may turn away a customer for being too young or rowdy, but the person then hangs out on the street causing problems. Holmes said he would like to give police the authority to ticket people who are turned away from a bar, but still hang out on the street outside of the bar. If the Public Safety and Licensing Committee should use its valuable time to research solutions like this instead of attacking a local business.

Racine is not alone in dealing with problems outside of bars at closing times. Cities across the country have worked out solutions that allow bars and clubs to remain open, while also protecting the public’s safety.

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson is planning a closed-door meeting with Cleveland NAACP president George Forbes to fashion an agreement regarding crowd control near a controversial night club. Jackson said he would continue a heavy police presence near the Lust nightclub on Saturday and Sunday mornings so patrons feel safe. He also said he will accept Forbes' suggestion to bring in officials from a federal prosecutor's office to improve business owners' and employees' awareness of anti-discrimination laws. Such training would enable bar owners to properly intervene with patrons before police need to become involved.

New Haven, Conn.’s City Hall is trying to sell a new entertainment district “surcharge” to make downtown safer on busy bar nights, but not all restaurants and bars are ready to buy in. The fee would double the number of officers assigned to keep the peace and clear streets on Crown Street and surrounding roads.

To do that, clubs and restaurants would be asked to contribute roughly $300,000 per year divided among 40 or so businesses. But how to equitably determine each one’s share — and the inability to compel participation — leave questions unanswered.

In an effort to crack down on some of the late-night rowdiness in Wilmington, N.C., a downtown bar owner has installed a halogen light to illuminate the over-crowded, and sometimes dangerous bar-goers who congregate at the intersection of Market and Second streets at closing time It was a suggestion made by Wilmington Police.

"It's safer for the pedestrians. It's also safer for the police. That way they can actually see what's going on because it can be dark in that corner because there's not a lot of city lighting over there," said a bar owner.

Holmes would like the opportunity to implement these reasonable solutions outside of Park 6. He has no intention of walking away, at least not without a fight. Park 6 is a successful business and on that reason alone Holmes is compelled to keep its doors open. But he also senses a deeper issue. Park 6 draws a large African-American crowd to a Downtown area not used to seeing minorities on its streets. Holmes wonders if that works against his bar.

A lot of effort is going into making a case to close the bar. On one occasion the Racine Police Department’s surveillance van was parked near Park 6 filming patrons as they went in and out of the bar. Also, several people have been observed recording the crowd near Park and Sixth streets from a parked vehicle. When asked who they are recording for, the individuals refuse to answers. In July a video crew was spotted on top of a nearby building. These actions have Holmes feeling like the city is out to get him.

He may be right. The city seems convinced they have a case against Park 6 and is moving ahead with the intention of shutting the bar down. Unfortunately for Holmes he’s not facing a jury of his peers. He’s up against the very people who decided his bar was a problem in the first place. No matter how strong his arguments, he’ll have to overcome the inherent bias that comes with being the accuser.

That said, Holmes may be able to do it. He’s hired an attorney is building his own case against the city and for Park 6. He’s already caused trouble by requesting city emails about his bar. That forced the committee to put off the due-process hearing to address his request. Expect a few more tricks up Holmes’ sleeves before the due-process hearing is over. The city has opened a dangerous door to review of its past and current actions. By the end of the due-process hearing it may be the city, and not Park 6, that’s under the gun.


  1. Good article, except for garbage like this: (Heaven forbid too many people, or at least people of color, spend money in Downtown Racine.)

    The problem downtown is not skin color, it is behavior. Downtown Racine and the businesses there welcome people of any color who are behaving responsibly. Conversely, of course downtown businesses don't want people around who aren't behaving themselves.

    Otherwise a nice article.

  2. I've said for years that "downtown is all right because it's all white." People of color are allowed to live in squalor in the areas that surround downtown, but they are not welcome in the "heartbeat of the city." Look, but don't touch. Downtown is an island of white wealth and conspicuous consumption maintained by elitists for elitists. Downtown is a disgrace and a shame, and has been for years.

  3. "The Insider New, the local branch of the NAACP and supporters of the bar..."

    The NAACP believes no such thing and you know it Ken. Oliver wrote the report so Keith Fair (the other bar owner) could leak it to you just days before HIS appearance before City Hall. The NAACP requires a vote of the general membership to issue such a report and permission for direct action from the National Office to make a allegations like this.

    Stop using the name of the NAACP to give your argument credibility!

  4. This is a well-reasoned article. The city's probably making a mistake.

  5. How about a mass protest during Party on the Pavement? Are there enough committed people in Racine to pull it off, or is this "battle" just going to be more of the white porkers versus the black porkers? Both sets of "leaders" lie and mislead, each for their own personal profit, all riding on the backs of their respective followers.

  6. Orbs - still waiting for one example and proof of a person of color being turned down in opening a business in downtown.

  7. James Chun's convenience store on 6th.

  8. What a joke. Is Park & Sixth the hill you want to die on? Do decent, hardworking blacks want to be caught dead in that place? See I work for a living so I can't afford to caught up in the gangbanger, welfare sucker drama, just to line some jive-flashly mac-daddy want to be's pocket. Orb you sound like a typical racebaiter. Every time a black person messes up a great oppurtunity and gets called on it, you're there to defend them and cry racism. I expect the BEST out of blacks. I don't defend the lowest common denominator. I'm black and if I ran that place they wouldn't close ME down! My place would draw all people as long as they had CLASS! Blacks back in the day used to have class and soul but now we look like an evolution chart in reverse. If you're going to be the only black anything....BE THE BEST!!!!!

  9. Sir asks "... still waiting for one example and proof of a person of color being turned down in opening a business in downtown."

    I'm pretty sure Mr. Chun's family is Asian-American, if you include Asian-Americans among persons of color. And I'm pretty sure he was, indeed, turned down for an application for opening his store downtown on 6th Street.

    It was in all the papers.

  10. Just got back from First Friday downtown, and noticed there were more black people downtown this evening than I've seen in the past decade. The city should be careful of taking steps or otherwise sending signals that would discourage this positive trend.

  11. Randy sorry, your Mr. Chuns example is not a example. This was not about color and I'm not sure I'd classify Asains a people of color, but it had to do with liquor license not color - nice try. This is the example everyone tries to hang their hat on since they cannot come up with any other real examples.