Owner says, “I Don’t Like Being Labeled a Gang Bar”
By Mindy Cooper/ The Portland Observer
An African-American owner of a northeast Portland bar has closed his doors after the Oregon Liquor Control Commission issued several restrictions on the business.
A series of enforcement actions were put into immediate effect by the OLCC after the fatal shooting of 34-year-old Leonard James “LJ” Irving on June 26 in a parking lot across the street from Seeznin’s Bar and Lounge located at Northeast 82nd Avenue.
Inside the Bar and Lounge last week, residents could be seen with food and beverages from other places of business because Seeznin’s was no longer undergoing sales.
“The restrictions being enforced by OLCC are a detriment to my business,” said Samuel A. Thompson, the owner and license holder of the bar. “In the scheme of things, what I do in the community has been lost because negative incidents have occurred within the proximity of my building.”
Thompson, who opened the bar in March of this year, said he believes OLCC is using his bar as a “scapegoat”, instead of focusing on the true issues going on within the community. “They are using Seeznin’s as an example in their feeble attempt to curve gang violence,” he said.
OLCC said the seven emergency restrictions placed on the bar were issued as a result of a high level of violence and gang activity permitted within Seeznin’s walls.
Thompson, however, said violence is not welcomed at his bar.
He said after visiting the Irving family’s home the day of the funeral, he received the restrictions order at the bar.
The OLCC notice said, “This Order of Immediate License Restrictions is being issued because continued operation of your premises represents a serious danger to the public health and safety.”
They stated Thompson permitted disorderly activities on the licensed premises. On the night of Irving’s murder, “known gang members fought inside the premises. The fight moved outside the premises where shots were almost immediately fired. Three patrons of the premises of were shot. One of the Patrons was found to be deceased at the scene and two had serious injuries that required hospitalization.”
Thompson said he has surveillance footage, which he has given the Portland Police, of the night of Irving’s death that shows the allegations of violence on his property that night are “Lies.”
Although the press release sent out to media about the recent restrictions stated the incident took place in the parking lot of Seeznin’s, the shootings actually occurred in a parking lot across the street, he said.
“With the OLCC there are a lot of non-truths,” said Thompson. “Insinuating we had fights occur when we never had any violence take place here or on the premises.”
According to James Mcmillan, the cook at bar, before the violence happened across the street everyone within the Seeznin’s seemed to be in high-spirits. “The mood was good in here,” he said.
Minutes before Irving was shot, Mcmillan cooked Irving and his family chicken while they celebrated a birthday. “Then he walked outside, and they killed him,” he said, confused with why the OLCC and the Portland Police have casted blame on the bar for the incidents.
“It’s just sad about him (Irving) dying,” he said. “They are trying to blame the bar. Not trying—they blamed the bar.”
According to the OLCC, the restrictions are a result of a number of “serious and dangerous incidents” that have occurred on the premises since the license was received in early March, including a fight on April 20, which they said led to a death after those involved left the premises. Arrests were also made on May 20 for parole violations.
According to the Director of Public Safety for the OLCC Rudy Williams said even when the incident occurs down the street, across the street, or around the corner from the establishment, the licensees are still held responsible.
“The licensee is responsible for everything inside or outside the premise,” he said.
Mcmillan, however, said, “You can’t just stop people from coming in here, and it is not our job to crack down on the gangs.”
Thompson said, for the community to blame the bar for the violence is unfounded because, unfortunately, in Portland there have been several murders since September, and no one has been arrested.
According to the OLCC, the organization has a Public Safety Principle, which focuses on community livability considerations when guiding alcohol beverage system growth.
Some of the required restrictions for the business, however, Thompson said he already enforced, including a wand to search people and their bags before they enter the establishment, as well as age verification checks.
The other restrictions, however, Thompson said are impossible for him to adhere to while maintaining his new establishment. Some include anyone who exits the building after 10:30 p.m. will not be allowed re-entry, and the bar must be closed by 11:30 p.m. Further, they required Thompson to implement a dress code.
“Anyone wearing gang-related clothing will be refused entry,” said the OLCC in a press release, but the immediate order explained the details, which read “a person wearing clothing associated with gang membership or affiliation, including but not limited to athletic jerseys (with the exception of game day attire for local events) torn or ragged clothing, casual sweat pants or track suits, head wear of any kind, or known bike wear or street wear attire, including color will be refused entry to the premises.”
Thompson, while wearing a maroon track jacket, said his clothing would be considered gang-related by the OLCC, and he asked what does this help?
“I don’t like being labeled a gang bar,” he said.
According to Thompson, Seeznin’s is a place for everyone within the community.
On June 16th, he said, the business held a Youth Employment fair at Seeznin’s, where they provided food handlers cards out of pocket for 23 kids throughout the community, as well as one young adult received a job doing sign language for the Police Activity League.
All different walks of life visit the bar, Thompson said, but the majority of customers of Seeznin’s are African American individuals from throughout the community.
“We have families and all kinds of people who frequent here, but people think whenever black folk come together in a group they are a gang, he said. “I believe race has something to do with this.”
“Putting the restrictions on the bar was not intended to close the business down,” said Christie Scott, the public Affairs specialist for the OLCC. “We are working off the police report by trained officials.”
He said, “It was never our intent not to allow him to be successful,” he said. “People don’t understand a liquor license is a privilege, but when it is linked to public danger, you must be held accountable.”
Williams explained, “we would be remised if we did not take the actions we took and would be abdicating our role and responsibility to make the environment safe.”
Thompson, however, said putting restrictions on bars and different places does not get to the root of the problem, which is there is a very large gang and gun violence problem in Portland Oregon.
“OLCC is not in touch with what is going on within the community,” he said. “But they are throwing down the law without any facts or truths of what took place.”