Drama in Green Bay
I'm not sure how far this story has spread, but it sure is huge in Green Bay this summer. And, as the club at the heart of the controversy is within 4 blocks of my office, I think I hear a bit more about it than most. Regardless, it is a story at the intersection of race, politics, and sports, and is getting stranger with every passing moment.
As a recap...
Nick Barnett, a Green Bay Packer starting linebacker, opened a club in downtown Green Bay called "Five-Six." Recently (June 6/7), after noise complaints and possible ordinance violations, the club lost its liquor license. This move was quite a shock, as typically the City Council will create an abatement plan and put the establishment on some sort of "probation." People started wondering why the club wasn't given a chance, and rumors started floating that the typically black crowd in mostly white Green Bay was creating some racial (racist?) tensions.
"I don't believe they were fair," [Barnett] told reporters. "I think they're using me as a tool to speak to other bars through the media. … This is year one. I'm very hurt that the city would do this."
Adding fuel to the fire was the subsequent (June 26) renewal of the liquor license of a problematic downtown club ("Hip Cats") just across the Walnut Street bridge from Five-Six.
At least one member of the committee, though, says the two situations are similar and should have been treated the same.
"I don't think it's fair," Alder Chad Fradette said. "We need to follow the process we always follow, and now if FiveSix does continue to have problems we can't shut them down anyway, where we could have shut them down under our normal process."
But shutting down FiveSix or Hip Cats isn't what Fradette wants to do. Like the committee did with Hip Cats, Fradette feels Nick Barnett, the owner of FiveSix, should have been brought in for a meeting with city officials. According to city process, an abatement plan would have been constructed and time given to resolve the problems.
But that's not what happened, and that's where Fradette feels the system failed.
And, just two days ago (June 28), Barnett was singled out and issued a jay-walking citation near his club, despite walking side-by-side with several white reporters.
Tuesday afternoon, Nick Barnett and CBS 5's Bill Walsh and a photographer crossed Walnut Street to conduct an interview inside the FIVE-SIX nightclub. After that interview, Barnett received a written warning for jaywalking and we did not.
Officials say Barnett should not have gotten that warning for jaywalking. They describe the officer that wrote the warning as a good cop who just got a little over zealous in one isolated incident.
I don't think I've ever heard of anyone getting a jay-walking cite in Green Bay in my entire life. If they were routinely issued, hundreds (if not thousands) would be issued in downtown Green Bay alone every business day. This is more than just a bit sketchy.
Yesterday (June 29), the Mayor finally stepped in and encouraged the City Council to renew the club license.
The Mayor admitted that his announcement had a lot to do with his concern about the city's image and concern that people may believe that the City of Green Bay discriminates.
But as of today (June 30), the club was hit with racist graffitti:
Green Bay police are searching for an unknown person or persons who spray painted a racial slur and several swastikas on the west wall of the FiveSix Ultra Lounge in downtown Green Bay early Friday morning.
This is getting out of hand. I'm embarrassed for the city and feel horribly for Barnett. I can't imagine this sort of distraction while attempting to focus upon an upcoming NFL season. What a great reward he gets for trying to add something to the semi-dead downtown. I additionally credit him for keeping his cool and trying to move forward with the whole thing, despite the obvious temptation to get publicly upset.
Those are the facts. What Barnett can't help but wonder is whether race played a role in the city's decision. Not necessarily his race, but that of his patrons, many of whom are black.
"I was born in an interracial couple. My mom is black, my dad was white," said Barnett, whose club remains open as he appeals the decision. "So I don't have a problem with (being black in Green Bay).
"I'm not saying the whole city is racist - that's not what I'm saying. But we do get stereotyped here. Like, when (the members of the council) were watching the video of my club. They looked at the way people were dressed and said, 'How do you get that element in your club?' Well, what do you mean by 'element?' Just because they're black? Is that the 'element' you're talking about?"
"It's discouraging that instead of working with me, they're trying to put me out of business," said Barnett, who also lives in Green Bay full-time and is moving his mother and sister here this week. "Do you expect any of these guys in this locker room to invest in this community now? I wouldn't suggest for them to do that."
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