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“It was heartbreaking’: Black students question their security at bars

<p>Brick Street Bar is a popular spot for Miami students on a night out. </p>

Brick Street Bar is a popular spot for Miami students on a night out.

If Debra Olabode, a junior social work and international studies major, had to describe how her experience going out to Oxford bars differed from white students’ experiences, she’d use one word: “awareness.”

Being a minority in a predominantly white college town means Black students, like Obalode, might be more guarded. Obalode said that when she goes out, she knows that people might discriminate because of her “darker complexion.” Three percent of students at Miami identify as Black, according to a 2022 survey provided by the Office of Transformational and Inclusive Excellence.

“What if I get stamped [at the bar] and because sometimes their stamps aren’t very dark, are they going to think I’m lying and try to kick me out?” Obalode asked.

Photo by Jake Ruffer | The Miami Student

Side Bar is a popular hangout for Miami upperclassmen.

Recent events haven’t eased these concerns either. On Nov. 18, Oxford Police Officer Matthew Blauvelt struck Devin Johnson, a Black Miami University football player, multiple times in an altercation outside Brick Street Bar. When video footage of the incident began circulating, some people were shocked by Blauvelt's actions.

Since then, an external investigation by Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser determined Blauvelt was within his rights to strike Johnson and that he did not use excessive force — an unsettling verdict for some. The Oxford Police Department (OPD) is now conducting an internal investigation of the incident and reviewing its use of force policies, according to a statement from Police Chief John Jones from Jan. 12.

Olabode was “disheartened” by the results of the investigation. She said seeing Johnson on the ground reminded her of when police brutality ignited the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020. 

“I remember thinking when I was watching the video, I was like, I can’t even be safe in Oxford,” Olabode said.

Kam Little, president of the Black Student Action Association (BSAA), said she wishes OPD would take “some accountability.” Gracie Grady, a sophomore political science major and Associated Student Government senator, also said the incident has negatively affected her perspective on the OPD. 

“It diminishes the trust between the very small number of students of color at this university … between us and people that are supposed to be protecting us,” Grady said. 

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Photo by Jake Ruffer | The Miami Student

Skipper's Top Deck is a sit-down pub where students can drink, eat and chat.

Obalode said she couldn’t remember a time in Oxford bars when anyone was outwardly racist to her. However, this was not the case for Little, who recalled an interaction she and a friend had with a customer at Skipper’s Top Deck. 

“We had someone come up to us and pretty much ask us, ‘What are we doing here?’” Little said. “‘How did we get here? Why are we here?’ Basically asking us questions implying we don’t have a right to be at Miami … It was heartbreaking.” 

Andrew Amarantos, owner of Skipper’s Top Deck, said he was not aware of this interaction and it is not often that instances like this happen at his bar. He also said he has been supportive of Miami’s Black community and has hired many Black student workers through the years.

“You know, when alcohol is involved, people say things they shouldn’t and wake up in the morning and regret it,” Amarantos said. 

The incident with Johnson has not been reported as racially motivated, and there are no current lawsuits against OPD or Brick Street alleging specific wrongdoing. However, Obalode said she would rather go somewhere she sees as more inclusive after the events of last semester.

“I feel the most comfortable at Bar 1868, specifically on drag nights,” Obalode said. “Oftentimes they have drag queens who are women of color or even Black drag queens as well.”

Little has been in communication with Brick Street Bar since the incident happened. The bar had previously committed to meeting with students from BSAA in a statement published on Dec. 29. 

In an email to The Miami Student, John Greiner, a partner at Faruki PLL law firm, wrote on behalf of Brick Street Bar, “Mr. Johnson’s case should play out in the court system. Mr. Johnson will have his day in court when his criminal case is tried.”

Little said the BSAA is dedicated to providing students of color with community. She is working with OPD as the internal investigation continues and offered anyone struggling with this incident the opportunity to reach out to herself or someone else in the organization.

“[The incident] does make me question, ‘Are Black students really safe in Oxford and free to fully exemplify their Blackness?’” Little said.