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Facebook serves up charges of racism and homophobia against Preston bar

By David Collins

Publication: The Day

Published May 20. 2012 4:00AM

Marquis Lawson of Norwich says he wasn't doing anything crazy on the dance floor a week ago Saturday at the Brookside Café in Preston, just his usual dance style.

He thinks it was the fact that he was dancing with another man that led a bouncer to come up and tell him to stop.

One thing led to another, and by the time Lawson and his friends angrily left the bar, he says the bouncer followed him out to the parking lot and tried to engage him in a fight.

"He told me to hit him. I told him I don't fight," Lawson told me last week. "Besides, he was 7 feet tall."

When Lawson got home that night, he called a friend, who started a "Boycott Brookside" event on Facebook. By the time he got up the next morning, 90 people had joined. The number grew to almost 700 by midweek.

Eventually, the complaints lodged against Brookside on Facebook were much more about racism people say they have seen at the bar and less about the kind of homophobia Lawson said he experienced.

Some people posting comments on Facebook say that black people are often ignored at the bar when trying to place drink orders. People also say that black people are frequently turned away at the door and told the place is filled to capacity, while the next group of white people is allowed in.

I also spoke to two different deejays who said they were fired by the bar after the manager told them to stop playing music he believed was attracting black patrons.

One said the manager texted him one night and told him to change the music because "it's getting dark in here." The deejay is white.

Another deejay said the same manager used an inflammatory word - I will call it the "n-word" - to describe customers he didn't want in the bar. The same deejay said he saw many instances of racism in the months he worked there, from turning people away at the door to not serving them.

I tried to find out from the state whether there are any pending liquor law complaints against the café, but I didn't have any luck. I have come to expect a lack of response to questions from the administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

I got no answer at all from an email sent Tuesday to the public relations person for the state Department of Consumer Protection, which oversees liquor licenses. On Thursday, I reached John Suchy, director of the liquor control division, but he told me in a brief phone call that he had not finished reviewing the file.

By the end of Friday, still no one had gotten back to me about who holds Brookside's liquor license and its status, which strike me as easy questions.

I stopped by the bar on Wednesday and told two assistant managers I was going to write about the complaints of discrimination made on Facebook. I left a card and asked for the general manager or owner to call me back, but no one did.

The complaints from the "Boycott Brookside" events page on Facebook were also bleeding last week onto the bar's own Facebook page. People were suggesting there that management answer the allegations in some way.

The bar still wasn't responding by the end of the week.

"Cut me a check and I'll do your PR … you guys need to get it together and make a statement," was one comment on the bar's Facebook page.

I am not a regular Facebook user, and I was amused to see the tens of billions of dollars the company was valued at during its public stock offering last week.

But I was more impressed with the way Facebook friends so successfully rallied the wagons last week around a bar they believe to be practicing homophobia and racism.

You can scroll through the many members of the "Boycott Brookside" Facebook group page and see many smiling faces, different sexes, ages and colors, but tending young.

The swift and effective style of 21st century justice here was indeed impressive.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

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