RACINE — A new documentary is expected to claim city officials have discriminated against bars owned by minorities, but officials say every bar is held to the same high standards.
Made by former Downtown developer Jim Spodick, who himself has a checkered relationship with the city, the documentary has been in the works for more than a year.
Called “Pattern or Practice,” the film will be shown at the Oriental Theatre, 2230 N. Farwell Ave., at 7 p.m. on Jan. 20 — Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Tickets are $10. The theater was rented out for the Milwaukee premiere, the company that owns the theater confirmed last week.
The movie is expected to allege that the city’s Public Safety and Licensing Committee has shown a history of holding minority-owned bars to different standards than white-owned bars. Those standards have led to a disproportionate number of black- and Hispanic-owned bars having their liquor licenses revoked, according to promotional material for the film.
Alderman Greg Helding, chairman of the Public Safety and Licensing Committee, has called the allegations “utterly false.”
“We discipline license holders when there are threats to public safety, regardless of the race of the license holder or the patrons of the bar or tavern,” Helding said. “The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of taverns, black, white or otherwise, operate without any major instances that have to be dealt with at all.”
Spodick could not be reached for comment, despite numerous attempts over several days.
The Journal Times was not able to obtain a full-length copy of the movie, but a reporter was able to view a trailer, available at the documentary’s website, patternorpractice.com, as well as a fundraising video posted by filmmakers last year. The videos contain snippets of the film, including a handful of interviews with former bar owners.
Bar owners shown in the videos include Thomas Holmes, owner of the former Park 6, 500 Sixth St.; Keith Fair, owner of the former The Place on 6th, 509 Sixth St.; and Wilbur Jones, owner of the former Viper’s Lounge, 501 High St. The videos also contain sound bites from Milwaukee-area attorney Vince Bobot, who represented Fair in his efforts to keep his liquor license; Racine County Board member Ken Lumpkin; and former Racine Alderman Eric Marcus.
Some bar owners simply state that City Hall is racist, while others, like Jones, point to specific issues they had with how their establishment was treated by City Hall. Marcus, who once sat on the Public Safety and Licensing Committee, claims that the committee was not “applying all the rules, across the board, to all bars.”
He later adds that he doesn’t know “what the remedy is for minority bar owners that have their licenses threatened beyond going into the courts.”
In the fundraising video, Spodick states that the film was made to help raise $50,000 so bar owners who have had their licenses pulled can sue the city.
“This is not for the documentary, this is not for attorneys’ fees,” Spodick states in the video. “This is for depositions, investigations; for documentation. There is a lot that goes into this before they can actually reach court.”
Neither video mentions any data or information sources utilized by the filmmakers.
Waiting on data
Police Chief Art Howell declined to comment on the film, stating that it wouldn’t make sense to do so without knowing more. He also said it would not make sense for him to comment on incidents that occurred before his tenure as police chief.
In response to allegations that minority-owned bars receive unfair police attention, Howell said his department holds all licensed establishments to the same standard.
“This year our third-shift commander instituted an aggressive compliance check for licensed premises without bias,” he said, adding that results of those checks varied across the board.
If You Go
WHAT: “Pattern or Practice,” a documentary
WHEN: 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 20
WHERE: The Oriental Theatre, 2230 N. Farwell Ave., Milwaukee