The manager of two Blue Island bars that were shut down after shootings involving customers are alleging discrimination in the way officials enforce regulations on businesses.
Raymond Thomas, manager of Raven’s Place and The Vault in Blue Island, who is Black, shared two videos posted online in April that show a verbal altercation.
The video shows a white person, who Blue Island Ald. Dexter Johnson said is affiliated with another bar on the block, yelling racial slurs and arguing with law enforcement officers and a Raven’s Place security guard.
“It is very disturbing in this day and age that people still act like that,” Johnson said.
The person Johnson said is in the video could not be reached for comment and calls placed Thursday to the other business were not returned.
Thomas’ attorney John Ellis, said Friday the man in the video displayed “not acceptable conduct” as he threatened the life of a Raven’s Place security guard and kicked a nearby vehicle in front of a Blue Island Police Officer.
“That individual’s business is running in Blue Island and Ray’s businesses are closed. In our view, that individual’s business should not be receiving any more lenient treatment,” Ellis said. “All of the businesses in Blue Island should be treated equally.”
Requests for comment from Mayor Fred Bilotto, who is also liquor commissioner, were returned by city administrator Thomas Wogan.
Wogan said the video shows an individual who “said despicable things,” but said the video is a separate issue from shutting down Raven’s Place and The Vault after shooting incidents allegedly involving customers from the businesses.
“It was very unfortunate. It’s not reflective of what people want to see in the city of Blue Island,” Wogan said.
No one was charged or arrested after the yelling incident and no action was taken against the bar, Wogan said.
Raven’s Place and The Vault, located next to each other in the 13000 block of Western Avenue, were shut down under an emergency closure order after Blue Island officials say a customer left The Vault on New Year’s Eve and fired a gun into the air outside the another bar.
The city closed the businesses Jan. 1 and upheld the closure during a hearing Jan. 6, Wogan said.
The city revoked the business and liquor licenses for the establishments for 2023, Thomas said.
Thomas said 30 employees have been affected by the closure. In the nearly 13 years the businesses have been open in Blue Island, Thomas said he’s had a great relationship with city officials and even held fundraising events for some officials at the businesses.
Ellis said Thomas filed a lawsuit against the city of Blue Island stating the business has been unfairly treated through closures following shootings allegedly committed by patrons leaving Raven’s Place or The Vault that occurred on municipal lots.
The lawsuit also gives examples of other serious shootings that occurred inside Blue Island businesses where the businesses were not as strictly punished.
“Ray does not want to be in litigation. All he wants to do is run his businesses in Blue Island,” Ellis said.
Wogan said the city has temporarily shut down Raven’s Place and The Vault on three other occasions — in May 2021, September 2022 and New Year’s Eve — following shootings allegedly committed by people leaving one of the businesses.
“Every business owner in Blue Island is treated equally and on merits. The reason Raven’s Place and The Vault had their liquor license revoked is only because of violent shootings involving Raven’s patrons,” Wogan said.
Thomas said the three shootings occurred on municipal parking lots, so he does not understand why city officials are holding the businesses accountable.
“None of the issues happened within our facilities,” Thomas said. “They are not asking specific questions. They are just looking at the color of the people’s skin and saying that those people are coming from either Raven’s Place or The Vault.”
It is not the first time racial bias has been alleged in Blue Island.
On June 19, 2018, the Blue Island City Council voted 10-3 to uphold then-Mayor Domingo Vargas’ revocation of the business license for Island Sports Bar & Grill. The business license was revoked following a shooting outside the establishment.
Johnson, one of three council members who voted to reinstate Island Bar’s business license, said Thursday his support was because the owner, Adam Shorter, who is Black, was open to working with city officials to make security adjustments.
Raven’s Place and The Vault management have been given multiple chances, Johnson said.
“I never want a business to leave Blue Island, but the first thing I look for is safety,” Johnson said.
Johnson also said situations where someone fires a gun and someone yells racial slurs are “kind of different.” That means, he said, the punishment for those incidents should be different.
“The guy was uttering racial slurs but no one got shot. There’s a difference between verbal abuse and physical abuse,” Johnson said.