Amidst ever growing racial tension and divide in the country, stands an ever so familiar story of racial discrimination. This time at J. Alexander’s, an extremely popular eatery among African Americans. So popular in fact, it’s commonly mentioned as a nice “date” spot, if you want to impress that special someone. J. Alexander’s are all located in affluent neighborhoods outside Detroit city lines, but have always seemed welcoming to all customers. So, it was shocking, to many, to see that a cell phone video had surfaced involving an incident at the J. Alexander’s West Bloomfield location on Thursday, June 20, 2019. According to many news outlets, “Liah Gant” an African American patron, was seated at the bar with a guest. When the guest left for the restroom, Miss Gant was asked to give up her seat to two white gentlemen. After she refused, Miss Gant’s drink was taken, by an unidentified bartender and poured down the sink. An African American male, then tried to intervene after witnessing what had occurred. That’s when another guest, apparently of Caucasian or Middle Eastern decent, got involved. At this point, the other patron began to hurl racial slurs and throw food at the African American male. Miss Gant began to record as things escalated and became more chaotic and violent. You can imagine, this incident has caused quite an uproar, as many in the local Detroit community are calling for a boycott.
In the interest of balancing outrage with activism, I called J. Alexander’s on Tuesday, June 25, 2019 and spoke with a manager who identified herself as “Molly.” Molly was extremely patient and expressed her appreciation to tell her side of the story. She claimed that the information in the media was false and misleading. She also said “Our restaurant welcomes everyone and does not practice racial discrimination of any kind…”
According to the manager’s account, there was a situation at the bar where “guests” were being disruptive. It’s important to note, Molly did not specifically identify the alleged victim, “Liah Gant,” as the disruptive guest. The alleged,” disruptive” guests were then asked to leave, and a scene ensued.
The unidentified man shown as the aggressor in the cell phone video, was also a guest and decided to intervene. Molly further explained, “It was that guest that began to use racial slurs at the African American patrons.” During the ensuing chaos, the manager claimed some of her staff was being physically and verbally assaulted and they are cooperating with the police. Molly expressed that the entire incident spiraled out of control from guests and J. Alexander’s was unfortunately put in the middle.
I had an opportunity to also speak with Attorney Maurice Davis who represents Miss Gant and another African American patron, Jerrick Jefferson, who was at the restaurant during the same time. Mr. Davis stated foremost, that the incident that occurred at the bar had nothing to do with his client Miss Gant. It was a completely separate incident.
According to Mr. Davis, his client and a friend were both sitting at the bar and ordered drinks, during the incident the friend had gone to the restroom. With no clear reasoning, Miss Gant was asked to give up her seats and for two white gentlemen. Refusing to give up her seat, the bartender then took her drinks and threw them down the sink and refused continued service. In a press conference, Miss Gant states “I immediately got up and went to management. She (the manager) said that I shouldn't be upset because a drink wasn't thrown on me."
This incident got the attention of another African American man that attempted to defend Miss Gant. As heard and seen from the cell phone footage, the African American patrons were called derogatory racial slurs and had food thrown at them by the intervening guest. The scene was not a typical quiet date night out at J. Alexander’s. Naturally, the West Bloomfield police were called, but this is where the story takes a turn. Attorney Davis claims that J. Alexanders’ staff escorted the apparent aggressor through the backdoors, escaping the questioning of police, while his client (Miss Gant) was left to deal with recounting the incident.
Mr. Jerrick Jefferson was another patron not involved in this incident during the time in question. That same night, Mr. Jefferson alleges he observed a distinct difference between the treatment of African American and patrons of other ethnic backgrounds. "The manager was totally dismissive of our concerns when I brought up that I thought we were racially profiled based on observations with how they interacted with white patrons. She simply said, “I am walking away,'" Jefferson states in a press conference with Attorney Davis.
Since this incident, many accounts from African Americans have surfaced about this established eatery. Attorney Davis is filing a class action lawsuit on behalf of his clients Miss Gant and Mr. Jefferson. Both Attorney Davis and “Molly” agree on one thing, they are both cooperating with the West Bloomfield police investigation and arrests may soon be made. Having had a memorable first date night myself a few years back at the J. Alexanders in Somerset Mall with great service, it’s difficult to envision the contrast of that night with this incident which seems reminiscent of Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white man.