Glenn H. Burkins
Glenn H. Burkins

“We just have no comment at this time.”

That was the response we got when Qcitymetro called the corporate offices of the EpiCentre seeking response to the June 2 arrest of Phillip Agnew, a 25-year-old, college-educated sales professional.

Agnew had gone to the uptown entertainment complex with friends to enjoy live music. He was arrested after he refused a security guard’s demand that he straighten his hat, which he wore that night slightly askew.

Agnew, who said he had never been in handcuffs, was taken to the county jail and booked.

It seems the EpiCenter has a dress code that prohibits men from wearing backwards- or sideways-facing hats. Agnew said he was unaware of this rule.

Perhaps the EpiCentre’s “No Comment” stance would be less disappointing if the controversy ended there. But it doesn’t.

Agnew, who is African American, insists that he was singled out because of his race. He said he pointed out to the security guard, who also happened to be black, as well as to the arresting officers, others in the EpiCentre crowd that night who wore their headgear in a similar fashion.

I can think of at least a half-dozen good reasons why EpiCentre officials would not want to try this sensitive case in the local media, not the least of which is Agnew’s July 15 court date. But I can think of far more compelling reasons why they should speak up, if only to issue a boilerplate and heavily lawyered statement denying that their dress code policies are applied unevenly.

Nature, it is said, abhors a vacuum. With only one side of this story being told, the public is left to wonder.

Agnew is a soft-spoken man who holds a business degree from Florida A&M University. He can hardly be labeled a radical. And let’s face it; he is certainly not the first African American to accuse uptown bars of using dress codes and other measures to weed out and discourage black patrons.

Surely, something — perhaps even a wrong conclusion — will rush to fill the void where the EpiCentre’s voice should be.

But more than that, we as Americans share an ugly and racial past that seems to taint so much of what we think, say and do. And because of this, no reasonable allegation of racial bias should be met with stony silence.

The Epicenter is exactly what its name implies – the center of uptown’s burgeoning entertainment scene and nightlife. Given its prominent place in our city’s growth, is a simple denial of racial bias too much to ask?

Glenn H. Burkins is editor and publisher of Email

Founder and publisher of Qcitymetro, Glenn has worked at newspapers including the Los Angeles Times, St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Wall Street Journal and The Charlotte Observer.