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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Upper End Bar, The Vicksburg Post and the truth

Tuesday, January 28, 2014 The Vicksburg Post reported an incident that occurred at The Upper End. The Upper End is a bar located at 1306 Washington St. in Vicksburg. That there was an incident and it happened at The Upper End is about all the accuracy that you will find in the article. The timeline of what happened that night is completely inaccurate and written so as to make it sound as if it were, initially, much worse than what it was. The article states, “A tense atmosphere sparked by an argument between a customer and a security guard, and a series of complaints to Mayor George Flaggs Jr. forced city officials to close the Upper End Lounge”. Wrong, the tense atmosphere didn't exist until the police, led by the watch commander, came in thirty minutes before closing time and started saying that the bar was being closed and that it was his bar now and started trying to herd customers out. That's when the atmosphere got tense. So tense, in fact, that a customer and a security guard who was contracted by the promoter, not one of the bar's security team, got into an altercation. Also, the watch commander apparently felt so threatened by a female bartender who was speaking to one of the bar's other employees, that he told her to “shut the fuck up and get the fuck out” and threatened her with a can of mace.

A little further down in the article it says, “Police Chief Walter Armstrong said the bar is closed until further notice, pending further investigation into the argument and a subsequent assault in which Armstrong said a man was struck in the head with a beer bottle as customers were leaving the bar.” Wrong again. That incident, on which all of this hinges, happened an hour-and-a-half before the police arrived in force. The truth is, that around 1:00 a.m. a man hit another man with a beer bottle on the dance floor. They were both ejected from the club and were walking down Washington St. arguing and being followed by a police officer on foot. They were arguing, one was bleeding, and the officer was following them but not intervening. This angered the promoter of the party who was watching from the balcony. His comments ran along the lines of, “What the hell is he doing? Why don't he arrest them? He's just waiting for them to start fighting again!” A little while later, maybe 20 or 30 minutes, another officer came up asking if a certain person was in the bar, he was looking for the man who had hit the victim. We told him that they had both left and were no longer in the bar. He talked for a couple of minutes then left. It was a relatively minor incident which happened without warning and both parties were ejected by bar security, not the police. When I say relatively minor incident, I mean that I have seen much worse incidents in other bars, incidents that never warranted a police raid, the mayor being interrupted from his slumber, the police chief putting in a personal appearance, two articles on consecutive days in the newspaper plus a bonus hatchet-job of an op-ed piece, nor an emergency council meeting.

The Post goes on to say,“Flaggs said Monday he received a stream of text messages from a downtown resident from about 11 pm. Until 2:50 am. Monday complaining about speeding, noise and a large crowd outside the bar. The mayor said he didn't know the person who had texted him.” Let me address a few of these points. Speeding down Washington St. sort of implies people in cars in the street which is out of The Upper End's jurisdiction. Noise...noise from inside the bar or outside? The police were present for the entire night, parked across the street and on foot patrol. Didn't they hear it? Why didn't they act on it? A large crowd outside the bar? The only large crowds were people coming in and people leaving, not until the end of the night was there a large crowd of people outside the bar. There were no large crowds of people loitering around outside. The crowd was inside the bar. Maybe Flaggs doesn't know who was texting him, maybe he does, it's hard to keep secrets in a town like this.  Follow the money, as they say.

“After that last one at 2:50, I went to go see for myself,” Flaggs said. There was a crowd in the street and people were fighting everywhere. I saw at least six police cars and an ambulance. I called the police chief and told him to shut it down. This has got to stop.” Again, inaccurate. The police had shown up around 2:30 and entered the bar and told them to kill the music and turn on the lights, they were shutting it down. When asked, “Why?” the watch commander said, “Because I said so.  This bar is mine now”. No, there has to be a reason, you can't just close a business down because “I said so”, that's not proper procedure. That set the precedent for the mood for the end of the evening. Shortly thereafter, pandemonium ensued.

The Post says, “Armstrong said police were called to the bar about 2:04 am. Monday about an ongoing argument between a customer [and] a security guard at the bar, and arrested the customer for disorderly conduct and failure to comply with the officers' commands.

The incident with the beer bottle, Armstrong said, occurred as officers were telling people to leave the premises.”

No, no and no. The incident with the beer bottle, which they keep going back to, happened earlier, around 1:00 am. Both parties involved were both ejected and gone. There was no ongoing argument between a customer and a security guard, that altercation erupted suddenly as the police were shutting the bar down because the customer got upset at being shoved around and yelled at. There was an unfortunate scrum between the customer and a contracted security guard.

It felt like the bar was under attack from the beginning. Earlier, before any of this even got started, the watch commander came in to “check the capacity”. The bar keeps a head count with a clicker at the door. There were 157 on the clicker. His response was that he didn't believe that there were only 157, that there were too many cars out there for 157 people. Well, how many cars can 157 people bring? Potentially 157 would be my guess. Besides, there was another bar open across the street and, as mentioned in the Post's article, there are residences down there. Maybe some of the cars belonged to people who weren't in The Upper End, something was up from the beginning. One source said that the other downtown bars had advance warning and were told either to not worry about it or not to open that Sunday because “some shit was going to go down”.

The next day, Wednesday, January 29, 2014 The Vicksburg Post ran the second article. It was somewhat toned down compared to the first article from the day before. It talked about the “private meeting” on January 27, which was supposed to be Police Chief Walter Armstrong, Deputy Chief Bobby Stewart, manager Pat Belden and Larry Ray who was representing his wife, Michelle Ray, who is the leaseholder and manager of The Upper End. Chris Whittington, representing Vicksburg Daily News was told that it was a private meeting and the press would not be allowed. When the parties representing The Upper End entered however, they were met with an entire council and a reporter from The Vicksburg Post. Luckily, The Upper End's management had the foresight to bring two attorneys with them. It felt like an ambush.

The article also cited 122 disturbance calls from The Upper End from July 1 through Sunday, January 26, nearly seven months. Those numbers are debatable. To begin with, when Pat Belden took over management of the bar, he was under the mistaken impression that when his security removed someone from the bar, if he wanted them to leave the property and they wouldn't, he should call the police. Wrong. Each call is logged and can be used as a black mark against your business should the authorities decide to come after you. So, he made several of the calls himself. Also, these calls could be generated by neighbors, competitors, manipulative realtors and developers who would love to see a business removed. Practically anyone can make a complaint in which police are called out and it will be logged. It makes you wonder what the complaint logs look like for Walmart or maybe Waffle House.

Now to the fun part, the op-ed piece that appeared on page A4 in the same edition of The Post. The title is “Stretching the city's resources” and the first two sentences are, “So who's up for drinks after work? If things go right might even get a chance to wear pieces of a bottle on your head and go to the hospital!” Now if that's not the beginnings of a hatchet-job, I don't know what is. Further into the piece it says, “It would not do any harm to ask the ABC board to amend the status exclusively for the Upper End and have them close at 2 am. like businesses housed in buildings without the resort designation. It would be interesting to see what the state-managed board does in that instance.
Our community doesn't need choices for nighttime leisure to be limited any further due to safety. We pay taxes to finance tings like downtown street improvements, not to patrol a rowdy overflowing bar.” Who is paying this jackass to write this defaming tripe? Has this writer ever been to a bar? I have worked in bars since 1986 and have never worked in one that didn't have incidents...ever.

The rest of the piece is pretty much the same so I won't bother with a line-by-line rebuttal. Just know that it is completely biased and as full of horseshit as the other articles. Read it for yourself, just remember, it's not accurate.  The Upper End reopened January 28 under a 60 day probation of sorts for observation.

Another source has told me that statements have been made by the “powers that be” that “they're building those high-end apartments down there and they don't want to hear bar noise all night”. Shouldn't they have considered that beforehand? That's like building a house by the airport and then pissing and moaning about hearing the airplanes. I said before, follow the money. After all, money talks, and it has a loud voice in Vicksburg Mississippi, it always has. The old money and blood that has circulated around this town has grown stagnant and decadent. They have a stranglehold on the local economy and it is an uphill battle for anyone who opposes or competes with them. They are deeply entrenched in the inner workings of this city and what is going on in Vicksburg Mississippi right now is an absolute travesty. What they would really love to do is to shut the bars down, option number two is to pull the resort status which allows certain bars to serve alcohol 24 hours a day 7 days a week. The city, who I am sure is bowing to some “prominent” moneyed entities, has set out to cripple some local businesses and apparently The Vicksburg Post is one of their tools. If The Vicksburg Post is going to call itself a newspaper, it should really get better at fact-checking and probably needs to find more credible sources than the ones cited. Perhaps talk to someone who was actually there during the events. Or, just change the name of the paper to Pravda.

As a little wrap-up here on my commentary on our local “news source”, the same promoter had to move his party to the Holiday Inn for his next party. There was gunfire. Did any of you read about that in the paper? I thought not...they didn't print it.

It was also stated that "these parties attract the wrong crowd'.

For more about the downtown bar life read these:

What law is the City of Vicksburg enforcing here?

Twitchy and his two-headed anaconda

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