“We don’t serve your kind here”

Brent Finnegan -- May 12th, 2008

There’s an interesting editorial in today’s Virginian-Pilot about a new law about to go into effect in Virginia. Apparently if you’re a bartender, you can’t serve a gang member.

HB1117, which recently passed General Assembly and became law, states:

The Board may suspend or revoke any [Alcoholic Beverage Control] license […] if the licensee […] allowed such premises to become a meeting place or rendezvous for members of a criminal street gang as defined in § 18.2-46.1 or persons of ill repute

In other words, if a bartender knowingly or unknowingly serves gang members, they may get fired, and the bar may lose their ABC license.

At least one restaurant/club in Harrisonburg has been in the news for alleged gang activity outside, in the parking lot.

The Virginian-Pilot editorial argues that the law may lead to racial profiling, there are too few ABC agents to enforce the law anyway, and asks, “Should bar owners be held responsible for what their customers do when they’re not on the premises?”

h/t Whipple

40 Responses to ““We don’t serve your kind here””

  1. Callie says:

    What do you suppose that “persons of ill repute” means exactly? It seems like that could be interpreted rather broadly if someone wanted to…I have also been told that there is an old law on the books here in Harrisonburg that a bar tender could be fired for serving anyone known to be of homosexual orientation. I am not sure that putting that burden on the bartenders or even the bar owners is a very fair or effective way of dealing with this “problem”

  2. Seth says:

    “In other words, if a bartender knowingly or unknowingly serves a gang member, they may get fired, and the bar may lose their ABC license.”

    this strikes me as well beyond the worst case scenario of any realistic application of this law. it’s not even really what it says (in the brief excerpt above at any rate). unless you believe that the abc board will somehow construe one gang member coming through the doors of an establishment as a meeting or a rendezvous (both of which require multiple parties by definition) then i think fears of this statute being misused to racially profile patrons are reactionary and unfounded. to me, it seems pretty evident that they want to have the ability to shut down establishments that are amenable to gang members congregating and potentially planning/discussing gang activity (possibly even front businesses for the gang).

    as one that was dancing in the street when the harrisonburg classic ‘main street bar and grill’ burned, i wouldn’t mind seeing them go a step further and make a statute that says if you have meatheads, rednecks or thugs (who are your patrons) fighting on public property adjacent to your business every damn weekend, then we will take away your abc license. as one who has enjoyed the lack of regular violence since karma made things right on main street, i don’t think it’s too much to ask.

  3. Dave Briggman says:

    I have other things on my calendar today, Callie, but if you’d like to see if what you had been told is accurate, here are “the books” (actually just a single book) of Harrisonburg ordinances.


    I would think prostitutes and drug dealers could likely county themselves among “persons of ill repute” — perhaps anyone convicted of numerous classes of misdemeanors and countless felonies.

  4. Seth says:

    “In other words, if a bartender knowingly or unknowingly serves gang members, they may get fired, and the bar may lose their ABC license. ”

    i saw that….
    careful or you’ll ruin your reputation as the ingenuous correcter.

  5. finnegan says:

    Care to clarify what you mean by “ingenuous,” Seth?

    The advantage of blogging over printing on paper is that you can add on to, clarify, and correct the body of text. I seldom leave a story untouched after hitting “publish.” Since there are no editors in blogging, I correct any errors I see after the story is up.

    If I make a major blunder, I strike it out and make a correction or retraction, but leave it up as a record of what was written.

  6. cook says:

    You people are so cynical, thinking that an officer or a police department or a prosecutor might use a broadly written statute selectively against individuals they’re “out to get” or against only certain groups of people. Where do you dream up such things?

  7. seth says:

    ingenuous: as opposed to disingenuous (i tend to associate it with honest objectivity).

    as i see it, there are two possibilities. the first being that the use of the singular instead of the plural was an honest mistake in your understanding of the amendment (which i don’t mean to categorically dismiss). the second is that it was an attempt to spin things so that readers who don’t dig or think very deeply would look at it and say to themselves ‘how ridiculous!!! a barkeep could be fired and the establishment could lose their abc license because A member of a gang gets served!? even if the employee had no idea?! what a stupid law!!!’

    the reason that i’m more inclined to lean towards option number two is that your primary source is an editorial which essentially states that this is a silly amendment that cannot be enforced and because your synthesis was essentially a vindication of said editorial (also relevant because this arena is allegedly a place where news is ‘not to be confused with rants or editorials’). i don’t want to get into debunking the editorial here, but if you’re interested i’d be happy to have a discussion sometime about why i think the points therein are illegitimate.

    as to corrections, i understand that the versatile nature of the web allows bloggers to make corrections/changes much more easily than the traditional print media. i don’t see this as an advantage though, as they (the print media) are also able to ‘add on to, clarify, and correct the body of text’ when necessary (and they frequently do).

    now, the question is, was this a major blunder or wasn’t it? generally, i would agree with you that mixing up a singular and plural is not an egregious error which demands noted correction (although i wonder what you would think if you were to see such a mistake in the dnr). however, (and i’m no expert on blogging ettiquette, but) when the effect of the error (even if it seems completely inconsequential) is to make it appear as if the writer has been misquoted by a commenter, then i would venture to say that the writer has a duty to somehow acknowledge the original statement. especially when the words that they have written so clearly carry a point of view. i don’t mean to be a jerk (geez, i’ve said that before), but i’m as aware as everyone else that we like to think this blog is more objective and transparent than some of the other local offerings.

    and just because there are no editors in blogging doesn’t mean that someone shouldn’t be editing.

    “There’s an interesting editorial in today’s Virginian-Pilot about a new law about to go into effect in Virginia. Apparently if you’re a bartender, you can’t serve A gang member.”

    you might want to fix that one too. really, i don’t care if you acknowledge it or not.

  8. seth says:

    good point cook.
    all this amendment really does is lump gang members in with drug dealers and prostitutes who are also not allowed to operate indiscriminately in bars. i mean the govermnment is trying to look out for you. isn’t that ususally what you guys want?

  9. finnegan says:

    “your primary source is an editorial”

    Actually, my primary source is the text of the bill itself, HB1117 (the one I block-quoted in the original post). The editorial makes an argument (an opinion) which I pointed out in order to get the discussion going. Legalese is rarely discussion-inspiring.

    But I suppose my error (and subsequent clarification) points to a flaw: the statute is ambiguous. As cook sarcastically points out, it could potentially be used by prosecutors or the ABC to do what they want it to do: including penalizing a bar tender for serving A gang member.

  10. Gene Hart says:

    Sorry, Cookie! I somehow figure this is my fault. More to come in the months to come, eh?

  11. cook says:

    sarcastic? what us guys want? your fault? what are you all talking about?

  12. Tom says:

    I would like to know how a bartender is “suppose to know” who is and who isn’t a “Gang Member”.

    Are they suppose to be members themselves to know? If not, should they somehow make a judgment based upon looks?

    Maybe it would just become safer for all bartenders to withhold service based upon looks?

    Maybe stop serving anyone who looked Hispanic? How about African? Or Russian? Jim Crow anyone?

  13. finnegan says:

    Last year, I was assaulted in a downtown bar by a guy in a baggy t-shirt. The guy might have been a gangbanger, or might not have been. It was dark, and there was no way to tell.

    Also, how do you separate a gang from a hazing, property-stealing frat?

    § 18.2-46.1

    “Criminal street gang” means any ongoing organization, association, or group of three or more persons, whether formal or informal, (i) which has as one of its primary objectives or activities the commission of one or more criminal activities; (ii) which has an identifiable name or identifying sign or symbol; and (iii) whose members individually or collectively have engaged in the commission of, attempt to commit, conspiracy to commit, or solicitation of two or more predicate criminal acts, at least one of which is an act of violence, provided such acts were not part of a common act or transaction.

    That could describe certain fraternities that have ended up in the national news. Imagine what would happen if they couldn’t drink.

  14. Barnabas says:

    The only way to enforce this law is to give bars a computer that will bring up a persons criminal record when their I.D. is scanned. Without the proper technology to make an informed decision this law simply asks the proprietors of bars or restaurants and their employees to profile individuals who look “sketchy”. I do have to say however that it could be the loophole bar owners were looking for when not wanting to serve this sort of “riff raff”. Now they have a law that makes them feel as though they have a legal basis and aren’t going to be sued for being prejudice.

  15. Mike says:

    If I were a bartender, I’d consider anyone who doesn’t tip to be someone of ill repute!

  16. Bryan says:

    as usual, i’m a bit confused. my reading of the primary source suggests that an ABC license can be revoked if a proprietor of a restaraunt or bar “allowed such premises to become a meeting place or rendezvous for members of a criminal street gang.”

    though i can see how the wording there may be somewhat ambiguous, it does not suggest in any way that a bartender could be punished for unknowingly serving a gang member. in fact, it seems that a bartender could knowingly serve a gang member, provided that gang member was not there to meet up with other gang members.

    i still think that this law might be a bit overbroad. it’s a piece of garbage crumbled up and spat out of the general assembly in order to provide some sort of recourse against businesses that regularly cater to violent and depraved bands of social misfits. if that’s one of the few ways that our state can control such establishments, our problems go well beyond gang violence.

    it is pretty clear, however, that this law could never be used to punish a bartender for serving a single gang member.

    this slope’s gettin’ a bit slippery.

    i’d also like to point out that that the bill allows the same course of action if a bar “has allowed noisy, lewd or disorderly conduct.” under those stipulations, any bar in h’burg that has ever served seth should probably hand in their license now.

  17. seth says:

    hell if they refuse to serve me i’m calling a lawyer. cook, interested in getting into civil liberties? or do you prefer to stick with those who police departments and prosecutors are “out to get?”

  18. Frank J Witt says:

    Hey, I better watch out, I’m a proud member of the Ambassador’s Club with Maker’s Mark…so watch out bars, just try and bar me…now wait, that doesn’t make sense…

  19. Barnabas says:

    So if they commit crimes and always hang out together but haven’t decided on a name or symbol then they can still be served?
    “I’m sorry we can’t serve you, your a part of a gang.”
    “Who? Me? No, I’m a part of a small group of indepednent criminals, we haven’t formalized anything.”
    “Oh,what will you have to drink?”

  20. JGFitzgerald says:

    Punish the bartender? Perhaps not specifically, but who’s the first one fired when a bar serves someone ineligible to drink, be it someone underage or a gang member?

    Still, unlikely to be enforced. Laws like this enable legislators to say they’re fighting the gang problem, and, to their credit, perhaps they think they are.

  21. Frank J Witt says:

    “So if they commit crimes and always hang out together but haven’t decided on a name or symbol then they can still be served?”

    Sorry but I found this and HAD to share my gang affiliations…(not really)


  22. seth says:

    you guys are right. i see so many prostitutes shaking it, drug dealers slanging it, and underage kids getting hammered on it in the bars that these laws are obviously not working.

    actually, wait, no i don’t. something must keep these unsavory/illreputed/unwanted elements out. maybe they just don’t like to drink.

    the point is that the laws have been working. even though enforcement is difficult.

    if you’re saying it’s stupid and they don’t work, then put up or shut up. let’s hear about the last time someone was out and saw flagrant violations of the statutes.

  23. JGFitzgerald says:

    “Put up or shut up”?

  24. Frank J Witt says:

    Seth, since I moved here 6 years ago, let me tell you something. I am in the “bar/restaurant” industry for 20 years and NIGHTLY I see it. Whether it is some A-hole from JMU or just another disorderly “townie”, there is no way of telling who(m) is who. This town is a nice town but there are individuals and some small groups that would like to operate it as if it were big city…that is not going to happen. These people can be kept under control by our great citizens by alerting poice when they act up or get over-zealous.

    If YOU don’t like it, I’ll give you 2 dollars to help you get out.

    So “put up or Shut up”

  25. Bryan says:

    push-up or sno-cup?

  26. seth says:

    sorry frank, i don’t think i made my point very clearly. (and perhaps put up or shut up wasn’t very helpful either).

    my point was that for the most part, the current statutes do a very good job of keeping underage drinking and other undesirable activities out of the bars. do people under 21 get served? sure, but when it becomes flagrantly obvious that an establishment is turning a blind eye, the abc comes down hard and closes them down (see highlawn pavilion).

    so i have a hard time seeing why people seem to be so convinced that this amendment will be so impossible to enforce and as a result ineffective. will gang members get served? sure. some may even go out in a group and talk business and get served (flagrantly violating the law). just like some underage kids get served. the law isn’t meant to catch every underage drinker and it isn’t meant to keep all gang members out of bars. it’s meant to be used as a tool when things go beyond the pale (again like at highlawn).

    to me, the law seems to be effective. it hasn’t really changed by the addition of the ammendment, it’s just been expanded to deal with a serious problem that has come about in recent years.

    so again, if you’re aware of flagrant violations that are going under the radar (thus proving the point that this is a silly, unenforceable law), i’d be curious to hear about them. if you’re not, then that means that the law is effective.

  27. seth says:

    (but you don’t have to shut up if you don’t want to)

  28. Frank J Witt says:

    I was being more sarcastic than serious. Everyone has their own opinions and should be able to share them freely!

    Hiccup or Back-up?

  29. seth says:

    i agree that everyone is entitled to have and share opinions.
    that alone does not make them well reasoned. still curious to hear some justification as to why people think a law that seems to work well won’t continue to do so.

  30. Gxeremio says:

    Well, this is a new law so I don’t understand how you can say it has been working already. And it seems designed to be unequally enforced, kind of at the whim of local police rather than generally. It also raises questions about what bar owners who want to follow the law are supposed to do – how do they know if they’ve allowed their premises to become a meeting place for criminal street gang members?

  31. seth says:

    1) this is not a new law.
    it is “A BILL to amend and reenact § 4.1-225 of the Code of Virginia, relating to alcoholic beverage control; suspension and revocation of licenses. ” (my understanding is that they added 10 words)
    2) local police are not the means of enforcement. abc is.
    3) a bar owner would know ‘if they’ve allowed their premises to become a meeting place for criminal street gang members’ in the same way they would know if they’ve allowed their business to become a haven for underage drinkers, illegal stripping, gambling, etc. (perhaps you’d defend the good folks at highlawn by saying ‘how were they to know people were underage?’ the point is it had apparently gotten so bad that abc knew. must have been pretty obvious.

    again, the point isn’t to keep all gang members from ever consuming alcohol in a bar (or to punish business owners for serving potential gang members). the point is to ensure that there is recourse in the event that a proprietor should allow their business to be overrun by illegal activity.

  32. Gxeremio says:

    Seth, be nice. Relax. It’s going to be okay.

    It is a new PART of the law. I don’t think anyone here is expressing qualms with any other part of the current law in this thread, just the NEW part.

    If you think the local police aren’t involved in enforcement (in this case, alerting the board to review/revoke an alcohol license), read this from the VA ABC site: “Virginia ABC special agents, state police and local law enforcement enforce these laws. The violation of these laws is punishable as a criminal act with fines and/or jail time. 4.1-100 is the beginning section of the ABC Act of the Code of Virginia.”

    I should think it’s quite a lot easier to card someone (for age) or see if they have dice or cards out (for gambling) or are unclothed (for stripping) than it is to know if they and the people in their company are members of a criminal street gang. What do you propose a bartender who wants to follow the law should do to make sure they’re not? Is there some kind of “I’m not a criminal street gang member” government document they can check for that I’m not aware of? Look at it another way, if the law said that a license could be revoked for allowing their joint to become “a meeting place or rendezvous for members of a” dogfighting ring, or insider stock tip ring, or some other criminal group that’s not actually committing crimes in the bar, how would you pick them out of the crowd?

    I don’t get your combative tone here. The question is who is this law targeting and how will it be enforced in any kind of fair manner?

  33. David Miller says:

    Anyone here for more government raise your hand

  34. seth says:

    “I should think it’s quite a lot easier to card someone (for age)”

    actually, not so much. kids have good looking fakes and get served with them all the time. in spite of the fact that it may be difficult for a bartender to identify a fake (i.e. they may be unaware that the individual they are serving is underage), they (and the establishment) are still liable. is it fair that a bar could lose it’s license (and a bartender their job) over this?

    this seems to be one of the very same questions you’re raising with regard to the difficulty of identifying gang members. and yet you claim to have no ‘qualms with any part of the current law.’

    i just don’t see the negative side of this. people seem to be afraid that it will lead to individuals being profiled, but no one has made a very strong case for that or explained why under the current law (which i believe you agree with) we haven’t seen problems with bartenders having to profile people because they’re uncertain as to whether or not they’re serving a prostitute or whatever.

    i don’t mean to be combative. i’d just like to see people be able to explain why they believe what they believe. are you concerned that this law will be unduly applied to hispanic bars? if so, i’d be interested to talk about it.

    lets get away from the groupthink knee jerk reaction though and try to make reasonable points.

    (as far as who the new part of the old law targets, it targets bars that would cater to gangs in the same way that the old law targets bars that cater to people who are underage. i really fail to see the nefariousness of it. can someone convince me?)

  35. David Miller says:


    The only way that I could argue towards nefarious intent would be to play devil’s advocate with a point that I don’t necessarily believe is accurate. So here goes….

    The law is written without stated intent so it is our job to determine said intent. This amendment to current law represents an effort to prohibit ABC licensed establishments from becoming havens for gangs. By limiting an establishment’s ability to choose its own clientele the state is thereby able to dictate this decision to the private enterprise under threat of termination of business. The targets of the state’s amendment are gangs. Rationale for limiting a gang’s ability to congregate in a public place is not stated in the amended law therefore we are left to determine this on our own (in the same manner that the ABC and law enforcement departments and prosecutors offices across the state will have to). By limiting a group’s ability to congregate in public, the group is further marginalized to the outer fringes of society. Marginalization of specific groups that tend to be racially segregated has historically proven to cause further marginalization of said racial group (regardless of their participation in the group that was originally targeted). Therefore this law serves to further divide our society while providing minimal benefit in return.

    Ps. Out of sight out of mind isn’t an acceptable public policy, irregardless of how much we might wish it to be so.

  36. Grant Penrod says:

    I liked the Star Wars reference in your header. I think “persons of ill repute” means droids, so I wouldn’t worry about it.

  37. David Miller says:

    lol, and by gangs they mean the rebel alliance.

  38. republitarian says:

    Grant, my sister went to school with you and I was friends with your brother in elementary school. What ever happened to Jacob?

  39. Grant Penrod says:

    Jacob lives in town and works with our Dad at Hoover Penrod on Main Street.

  40. finnegan says:

    I knew I could count on you for getting the Star Wars reference, Grant.

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