If 2011 is remembered for anything, it will be recalled as a year of discontentment. From Wall Street to Cairo, disgruntled masses raised their voices in collective anger.
In a bow to this new wave, “Time” magazine this month named the ubiquitous “protestor” its Person of the Year.
The editors of Qcitymetro have been watching, too, and today we name Phillip Agnew our Newsmaker of 2011.
In early June, Agnew was arrested at the EpiCentre entertainment complex in uptown Charlotte after he refused a security guard’s demand that he either straighten his hat or leave. Believing himself a victim of racial discrimination, he opted to do neither.
Charged with second-degree trespassing, the then-25-year-old Florida A&M University graduate was questioned, taken to county jail and processed. He was later found guilty and banned from the EpiCentre for two years.
Agnew described his actions that night as “civil disobedience” in the best vein of our African American tradition. Blacks, he said, are frequently singled out for scrutiny at EpiCentre venues.
“At some point,” he told us last June, “you have to say, ‘This is enough, and it doesn’t make sense to me.’ ”
While Qcitymetro takes no position on Agnew’s basic claim of racial discrimination, we couldn’t help but admire his willingness to stand for what he believed was right — even if it meant going to jail.
Apparently, we were not the only ones struck by his story. In a year that saw Harriet Jinwright go to prison, NAACP President Kojo Nantambu label our city a “racist bastion” and County Commissioner Harold Cogdell launch a bloodless coup against fellow Democrat Jennifer Roberts, the Agnew saga was among our best-read topics.
So what resulted from his courageous stand?
Shortly after his arrest, Agnew called for a widespread boycott of the EpiCentre. His “Do Not Enter the EpiCentre” movement attracted hundreds of advocates (and detractors), spawned a Facebook page and eventually ended up being discussed in City Council chambers, as well as being argued in court. He later launched a loyalty product called the Charlotte Black Card aimed at getting more African Americans to patronize their own businesses.
As for his allegations of racism, the Charlotte Mecklenburg Community Relations Committee sent a group of testers — half were black and half were white — into the EpiCentre to test Agnew’s theory. What they found did not support racism but did indicate an unequal enforcement of the center’s dress code.
Willie Ratchford, the CRC’s executive director, told Qcitymetro that of the testers who went into the EpiCentre wearing their hats crooked, some were confronted and some were not. But race, he said, seemed to play no role in which individuals were targeted.
EpiCentre officials have steadfastly refused to talk with us or anyone else about the Agnew incident, but according to Ratchford, in light of the CRC’s findings, the center hired a new security company this fall and implemented new training to ensure equal enforcement of its dress code and other rules.
As for Agnew, he said he has no regrets about the stance that he took. During a brief interview in early December, he called the hiring of a new security company a “partial victory.”