West Allis law enforcement officials, at the behest of the Milwaukee Branch of the NAACP, have agreed to reopen an investigation into a recent incident at a West Allis bar in which a bust of President Barack Obama was burned in effigy.
The West Allis police agreed to the request after the Milwaukee NAACP held a news conference last week in front of the Yester Years Pub and Grill, 9427 W. Greenfield Ave. in West Allis, where the event is alleged to have taken place in the middle of May.
It was during the news conference that the NAACP made their request. Afterward, branch officials visited the West Allis police station to make their request formally.
During the news conference, NAACP branch officials said they believe the initial investigation lacked the thoroughness typically associated with “competent investigations.”
The branch officials, led by its president Jerry Ann Hamilton, also questioned whether all known employees and bar patrons present during the incident had been interviewed.
Based on information they had received (and on what is reportedly a videotape recording showing the Obama bust set on fire that was aired during one known local news broadcast), the NAACP believes the bust was deliberately brought into Yester Years with the clear intent to set it ablaze.
“We believe the owner placed a noose around the neck of the statue,” said Hamilton during the news conference. She described the noose as being made of duct tape and tissue, then braided or twisted to resemble a noose.
“We believe the owner was warned by several people not to set the statue ablaze,” Hamilton continued. “We believe the owner disregarded these warnings and poured a combustible liquid (believed to be Bacardi 151) on the statue.
“We believe the owner then set the statue and noose on fire. At the time of the fire there were several patrons and employees in the establishment.”
The owner of the bar reportedly tried to downplay the incident, calling it a bad joke committed by inebriated patrons.
“For what it is worth, this does not appear to be a ‘Cuervo Gone Wild’ incident, but a premeditated attempt to use combustible liquids to start a fire inside a drinking establishment during business hours,” Hamilton said.
“This sort of disorderly behavior cannot and should not be tolerated.”
Hamilton noted that the incident at the West Allis bar is among a number of incidences across the country that are clear incidences of racial hate aimed at the president during his short time in office and during his election campaign.
“Prior to the November 2008 presidential election, racist mailers were sent to voters discouraging them from voting. No charges were filed,” Hamilton noted.
“Days before the 2008 election, vandals painted red numerals ‘666’ on Obama/Biden signs in Whitefish Bay neighborhoods. No charges were filed.
“On November 3, 2008. a poster depicting a bullet traveling towards the head of President-elect Barack Obama was found in a city of Milwaukee police station. No charges were filed.
“Now, a bar owner affixes a simulated noose around the neck of a statue of President Obama; the owner then uses a combustible liquid to set the statue and noose on fire; and we are once again informed that no charges will be filed.
“This lackadaisical attitude is unacceptable,” Hamilton said, adding the rise in hostilities towards the president in Milwaukee and surrounding suburbs is due, in part, to the failure of prosecutors to take these activities seriously.
The NAACP branch president said excusing this behavior sets a dangerous precedent.
“Do other bar owners now have carte blanche authority to use their readily available combustible liquids to start fires within their establishments during operating hours?”
Hamilton pointed to recent news headlines both local and national that serve as a constant reminder of the dangers of fire in drinking establishments.
“Fortunately, the fire started in this bar was controlled; however, that does not diminish the reckless and disorderly behavior of using combustible liquids to start fires in drinking establishments.”
Hamilton predicted the community will continue to debate whether the incident was the product of racist motivations or not.
“In the end it probably won’t matter to most whether the incident was about race, or was not about race; or whether the burning statue was of the president they voted for, or the president they did not vote for.
“To people of good conscience–Caucasian, African American, Latino, Democrat and Republican–it will serve as another sad indicator of how low public discourse has sunk.”
Tuesday, The West Allis Common Council unanimously voted to renew Yester Year’s liquor license. In a statement Wednesday, Hamilton expressed disappointment but not surprise at the council’s action, which she said is tantamount to condoning the behavior that took place.
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