A Massachusetts restaurant owner has apologized and eliminated a dress code policy after garnering backlash from residents and local politicians, who called the policy racist.
Nathan Bill’s Bar & Restaurant, located in Springfield, Massachusetts, had previously banned items such as durags and baggy pants as part of its dress code policy.
While the dress code has been posted since the restaurant opened seven years ago, according to reporting from MassLive, it became the center of criticism after a Facebook post with the policy was widely shared among community members. Bishop Talbert Swan, president of the Springfield chapter of the NAACP, tweeted about it around the same time.
“It may as well say, ‘WHITES ONLY,’” Swan tweeted on July 11, with a picture of the restaurant’s dress code sign.
Swan also pointed out that the restaurant was also the site of an assault on four Black men in 2015. In 2019, a statewide grand jury indicted 12 Springfield police officers, one retired officer, and one former officer, in connection to the incident, according to CNN affiliate WWLP.
Following Swan’s tweet, local officials and other community organizers gathered Saturday outside the restaurant to protest discriminatory business practices, including the dress code at Nathan Bill’s.
The restaurant’s dress code “clearly targets communities of color,” organizers of the peaceful protest wrote on the Facebook event’s description.
Springfield Councilor At Large Tracye Whitfield, who helped organize the demonstration, wrote on Facebook that they aren’t against dress code policies in general, just racist ones.
When reached for comment, Whitfield explained that the dress code clearly targeted the ways Black people dress, listing baggy tees, low pants and durags as examples.
“We felt that the sign was racist,” she told CNN. “And we’re not gonna tolerate any racism, any subliminal messages. We’re not going to tolerate it anymore.”
Toward the end of the demonstration, restaurant owner Robert Gossman gave a short speech, a video of which was shared on Facebook, announcing the restaurant had taken down the dress code, never to be put up again.
“I am currently ashamed of myself and offer my sincerest apologies for offending and not being more sensitive. I’m terribly upset with myself for not being more cognizant,” Gossman said at the demonstration.
Whitfield, who attended the peaceful protest, confirmed to CNN that Gossman attended the demonstration and gave a speech denouncing the restaurant’s previous policy.
Gossman took down the policy as soon as it started gaining traction online, she said, and met with the group – including Whitfield – privately to apologize as well. He also agreed to fully fund a “Black Lives Matter” mural outside Springfield City Hall, Whitfield said.
The dress code was first initiated years ago as an attempt to appease the city, which was cracking down on bars to curb violence happening at the time, Gossman told demonstrators. It was used after 10 p.m., when a D.J. and the late night crowd would come in. At the time, he said, the dress code was the norm and the status quo.
“Systemic racism is rampant in our society and following the norm and the status quo, although not intentional, is very much a part of the problem,” he said. “I pride myself on not being a sheep following the herd, and I failed myself.”
Gossman did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.
Whitfield said it was “a great gesture, with meaningful conversations and dialogue.”
However, she said, “this is a message … if organizations and businesses continue this, we’re not going to take it. We’re not going to be bartered.”