Drill Team Claims Racial Discrimination

WTNH-TV (New Haven, Connecticut), August 7, 2009

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The National Drill Squad and Drum Corps was in Kansas City earlier this week for a national competition. But the team leader says his group was scared and felt intimidated when the hotel they were staying in ordered them to leave at 1:30 a.m.

The hotel strongly denies that charge, saying it was the group’s behavior that led to the them being ordered off the premises.

Douglas Bethea described how several police officers carrying Tasers banged on their hotel rooms and ordered all 48 people in the group to leave the Sheraton Kansas City Sports Complex early Wednesday morning.

The team, which features 32 kids ages 4 to 18, had checked in on Sunday and Bethea described the eviction as the breaking point of three days of discriminatory treatment at the hotel. The group alleges that hotel staff referred to members of the all black group with racial innuendos.

But the hotel says it received more than a dozen noise complaints from other guests. Kansas City police tell News Channel 8 that they also received complaints from hotel guests over the three day period. The Sheraton’s manager says the drill team was warned multiple times to quiet down or the hotel would have no choice but to have them removed.

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“They referred to us as ‘you people’ and ‘we don’t deal with people like you,’ so I mean you explain to me ‘you people,’ what does that mean?” Bethea questioned. “We don’t deal with ‘you loud people,’ they didn’t say they, we don’t deal with ‘you people.’ To me, yes, that’s a racial comment. If it wasn’t about race, how do you put 48 people out of a hotel, give them 15 minutes or say you will be removed by force.”

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He [the hotel’s manager] went on to say “it’s an unfortunate situation, but it’s the hotel’s responsibility to maintain a quiet and restful environment for all our guests.”

Bethea admits his team has been loud in the past, going so far as to say that that the team should have been kicked out of other hotels. {snip}

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Bethea is also speaking with local members of the NAACP in New Haven who are talking with their counterparts in Kansas City about a possible lawsuit against the Sheraton and its parent company.

For Betha, he says pursuing legal action is not about money but respect.


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In what staff called a “highly unusual” move, the Sheraton Kansas City Sports Complex Hotel evicted the 35 kids and 13 chaperons from their hotel rooms at 1:30 a.m. Wednesday, citing repeated noise complaints from people who were trying to sleep nearby.

The hotel called in police officers to kick the group out. No arrests were made.

Doug Bethea, leader of the Nation Drill Team, called the eviction a “horrible” end to an otherwise successful trip.

“I’ve never in my life experienced something like this,” Bethea said. He accused the hotel of racial discrimination and vowed to litigate.

“It all boils down to, they had 48 black people in their hotel and they did not like it,” Bethea said. The hotel denied that charge.

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“Get Out Of Here Now”

Ten police officers banged on his hotel door wielding Taser stun guns at about 1:30 a.m., he said. Hotel staff was there, too.

“We want you guys out of here now,” they told the drill team, according to Bethea. The cops didn’t use the Tasers, but their presence scared the kids, he said.

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He asked why the police needed to wake up all the children, including three babies, in the middle of the night.

“There’s no justification” for that, he said. He asked the hotel to let these kids stay; he would get them out in the morning.

The hotel refused.

According to the hotel’s general manager, Ted Frerking, Bethea had already been warned that the group was on the verge of eviction. Staff had received repeated complaints about the group being noisy ever since the drill team checked in Sunday night, he said. On Tuesday at 10:30 p.m., they got two more noise complaints from guests.

Hotel staff gave the drill team a “final warning,” Frerking said. Then, at 1:20 a.m., they got two more guest complaints. They made the decision to kick the group out. Since it was such a large group, they called police for help with the eviction, Frerking said.

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The eviction was carried through without incident, according to Sgt. Stacey Graves, a public information officer for the Kansas City police. She confirmed that a staff person at the hotel called police at 1:20 a.m. Wednesday. The caller said a large group was refusing to leave the hotel. They were “arguing about payment, and arguing with security,” she said. Police showed up at the hotel and resolved the issue, she said. She said the police did carry Tasers, which are standard issue on police uniforms. No arrests were made and no police report was written, she said.

“A Reality Call”

Reached by phone Wednesday, Bethea and two members of the trip said they had been discriminated against by the hotel all week. Bethea said the New Haveners were among the few black people at the largely white hotel.

Racial tension first materialized Monday night, when about five teenagers went down to the hotel bar to get something to eat. An intoxicated patron at the bar made a remark to the effect of “wow, look at the black people,” according to Bethea. Heated words flew.

Bethea was called downstairs to resolve the situation. There was no fight, but the kids were on the verge. “These kids were ready to do whatever they had to do to survive,” he said.

Frerking said the New Haven kids misconstrued a statement made by a bar patron. He said they thought the remark was about them, but it wasn’t.

Diane Wilson, a chaperon and the grandmother of a 11-year-old on the trip, said racial profiling took other forms, too: The group wasn’t given room service for two days, was denied new rolls of toilet paper, and was subjected to racially charged remarks by hotel staff, she asserted.

As one hotel staffer got off an elevator, she was overheard saying “there’s a bunch of them running around here,” Wilson said. Wilson took the remark to have a racial connotation.

Ronald Huggins said he heard a female staffer say the New Haven kids were “all over the place like roaches.” Huggins, Bethea’s nephew, drums on the drill team and helps manage the team.

Frerking said he didn’t know anything about those allegations. He denied the group was mistreated on account of race.

“We treat all our guests fairly. It had nothing to do with the group other than the noise,” said Frerking. “Like any room, if they’re noisy, we would ask them to depart.”

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The disruption was starting to be costly, he added: Frerking said the hotel has had to compensate seven guests with free nights’ stays on account of the drill team’s noise.

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Meanwhile, reached on the 22-hour bus ride back to New Haven, Bethea vowed to file a racial discrimination lawsuit.

To top off their trip, Bethea and Huggins said the group was called “monkeys” by a client at the second hotel. The person told them to “go back to Africa,” according to Huggins.

“I’m upset and appalled,” said Huggins. He said the trip served as “a reality call” for the kids on the team, many of whom don’t otherwise get to leave New Haven. He said the trip showed him that in America, “certain parts have progressed, and other parts are still behind.”

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