'We Only Have One Colored in Our Town': Court Rules Michigan Bar Can Be Sued by Beaten Black Man After No One Called Police

Illustration for article titled 'We Only Have One Colored in Our Town': Court Rules Michigan Bar Can Be Sued by Beaten Black Man After No One Called Police
Photo: Kondor83 (Shutterstock)

A lot of white people would have us believe we live in a post-racial America. They’ll tell you that it’s actually the narrative around systemic racism that is dividing this country because they’re too obtuse and cowardly to deal with the truth—that this nation has always been divided, and for good reason as far as Black folks are concerned. The fact is, presently and throughout American history, traditional America—which is essentially white conservative America—has been a dangerous place for Black people to live in.


In 2015, Black man Edward James Tyson was beaten by a racist white man outside a Michigan bar. No one helped him. No one called the authorities. An associate of the assailant who was involved in the racist confrontation that led to the violence was reportedly hired to work at the bar later on.

Sometimes white communities are upfront in letting Black people know they aren’t welcome.

From the Washington Post:

The bartender said that he was drinking a beer post-shift when someone came in and said a Black man — the person used the n-word — had been knocked out.

The staffer, Ian Graham, immediately knew who the victim was, he said later. “We only have one colored in our town,” he testified, according to court documents.

Graham recalled heading outside to find the African American man now conscious but spitting out blood, sprawled out in the street in the tiny Michigan village called Wolverine. He heard that a White patron — a man with a “reputation for being racist” — had hit the victim after hurling a racial slur. He told the court he then watched as that patron emerged from the bar to punch the Black customer three more times, knocking the man to the ground over several minutes.

Edward James Tyson, 38, did not hit back, he said. He just kept asking a question: “Why are you calling me that?”

That’s when Graham said “things were getting out of hand,” according to a court summary of testimony. Whether anyone told the White customer to leave is disputed. But no one at the B.S. & Co bar called the police.

“We only have one colored in our town.”

Just a quick reminder that this was said in 2015 as opposed to 1950-something. This was said in so-called post-racial America. This was said by a white man who, apparently, was not the man with the “reputation for being racist,” even though he appears to have sat through a lot of n-word-slinging and punch throwing before deciding that “things were getting out of hand”—and he still didn’t call for help.


In 2015, Tyson—who said he suffered a traumatic brain injury after the attack—tried to sue the bar for negligence but a Cheboygan County Circuit Court judge ruled that the bar couldn’t be sued because the assault happened outside of its doors. Earlier this week, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled differently saying that the bar owners could be sued because “a reasonable jury could conclude that because the defendant’s bar patrons congregated out front on the sidewalk on bike nights, the area around the front entrance was effectively [the] defendant’s premises.”

Here’s more on what happened in 2015 as reported by the Post:

The White customer, 68-year-old David Dawkins, is also named in the lawsuit and pleaded guilty to aggravated assault, according to court records.

Tyson was on his way to pick up a pizza order from the bar on Sept. 12, 2015, according to his lawsuit and court testimony. Dawkins testified that he was at B.S. & Co for “bike night” and went outside to listen to live music across the street sponsored by a motorcycle group known for advocating against bike helmet laws, court documents state.

As Tyson and his friend approached the bar, Tyson testified, he met a barrage of racial slurs.

Two people — one of whom was later hired by the bar, according to the appeals court — were targeting him with the n-word. Tyson said he “expressed his offense” and kept walking, court documents say. But then Dawkins stepped in front of him, he said.

Dawkins allegedly called him the n-word.

Tyson said he tried to back away. Dawkins testified that Tyson asked Dawkins if he’d called him a slur and then “postured for a fight,” court documents state.

But both men agreed on what happened next: Dawkins punched Tyson.

Tyson’s friend would testify that Dawkins “hauled off” and hit the victim hard enough that he fell, head bouncing off concrete. He went unconscious for at least a minute, the friend said. Tyson said he didn’t remember anything else from the night — and later underwent emergency room treatment and speech therapy and grappled with “significant physical and psychological limitations” as a result of the beating, according to his lawsuit.

Graham said someone went into the bar to tell Dawkins that Tyson was asking where he was, according to court documents, and a few minutes later, Dawkins came back for more.


The appeals court ruled that a “risk of imminent harm” became clear when Dawkins came back into the bar a second time, “thus…this incident triggered a duty by the defendant to reasonably expedite the involvement of the police.”

I mean, it’s a good thing that Tyson is finally being allowed to sue after six years, but it is still really weird that no one involved in the case seems to think that the appropriate time to intervene was when the racial slurs and beating first began.


Then again, Black life is barely valued in places where we exist in abundance; it’s really no surprise that no one stood up for the only “colored in town.”

But please, tell me more about post-racial America.

Zack Linly is a poet, performer, freelance writer, blogger and grown man lover of cartoons


Doctor Pinguino

Doesn’t Michigan have hate crime laws? Why isn’t that racist behind bars (after he pleaded guilty to aggravated assault)? Oh wait... it’s fucking rural Michigan, which may as well be Kentucky.

Also... “ sponsored by a motorcycle group known for advocating against bike helmet laws”... if the racism doesn’t tell you about the kind of idiot patrons at the bar, then let this line enlighten you