NEWS- Jaberwoke wonders: Where did the dress code outrage go?

When Jaberwoke restaurant instituted a dress code last month, it created an uproar for banning, among other items, white t-shirts, baggy jeans, and hats without brims– often clothing items of choice for young black men. Hundreds of students joined an online group on Facebook dubbed "Hoos Against Jaberwoke," and dozens of students showed up to discuss the dress code at both a UVA Student Council meeting and then at a March 21 debate at the restaurant. One month later, however, the outrage seems to have fizzled.

"There was an uproar, people were given an opportunity to do something, and they have chosen not to," says Jaberwoke co-owner Anderson McClure. "That is so, so disappointing."

McClure, who with his brother also owns the Virginian and West Main restaurants, says he had looked forward to ongoing input from the students to help him design a less offensive dress code for all three of his establishments. Students had promised to meet and provide him with recommendations, he says. But he says that hasn't happened, despite the fiery words exchanged at the forum.

"I think it's irresponsible to randomly pick a dress code and think that will solve behavioral problems," student Sage Garner, a member of the UVA chapter of the NAACP, said at the meeting. "Never has it been proven that banning people who wear baggy jeans prevents violence anywhere."

Other students noted the irony that Jaberwoke would ban clothing associated with hip-hop culture when it hosts a hip-hop night each Thursday.

Gregory Jackson, who started the Facebook group, agreed to organize future meetings on the issue. Neither Jackson nor Garner returned the Hook's calls for comment for this story. 

Since the dress code uproar, several incidents have drawn further attention to the controversy. On Friday, March 30, Hogwaller Rambler vocalist Jamie Dyer was beaten on the Downtown Mall by a group of young men whose only identifying characteristic was their clothing: white t-shirts and baggy jeans. And on Thursday night, April 12, shots were fired in the Corner Parking Lot behind the Satellite Ballroom while hip-hop artist Slick Rick performed inside. No arrests have been made in either case.

But despite these incidents, police and others maintain that hip-hop clothes or music are not necessarily related to violent incidents. After Dyer's assault, Charlottesville Police Captain Chip Harding confirmed that white t-shirts are a popular clothing choice for some local gang members, but he said a fashion item is no reason to pass judgment.

"If you ride around this time of year, you see a lot of jeans and t-shirts," Harding said. "You can't generalize."

At the Slick Rick show, there was "no sense of tension anywhere that I could see," says Danny Shea, concert booker for Satellite. "I was afraid that this would automatically reflect badly on an event we had, but I don't see we can draw a connection."

Hip-hop musician Damani Harrison, a onetime Hook columnist and founder of the rock group Beetnix, says he has helped bring numerous hip-hop shows to Charlottesville, all without incident.

He calls performances by acts including Method Man, Blackalicious, and the recent JPJ performance by Common "amazing."

"They've been really peaceful, great experiences for everyone in town," says Harrison. "They're the most diverse shows in Charlottesville that I've gone to other than reggae. You get a much more accurate cross section of the community."

Harrison points out that white t-shirts may be more representative of gangsta rap, a type of music that, he says, does promote violence, while hip-hop focuses on "intelligent lyrics." While Harrison says he personally enjoys listening to the gangsta rap, he says he has no interest in bringing such live acts to town.

"That's not the kind of energy that I want to see at a show," he says. "I know what it does, and I know what kind of negative element it brings there."

Of the dress code debate, Harrison, who is African American, says he sees no problem with restaurant owners dictating the type of clothing they permit. He cites clubs in bigger cities like Washington D.C., which frequently ban most "street clothes."

"When you take the time to get nice when you go out, people are less likely to get things started," says Harrison. 

McClure says he believes students think he's simply done away with the dress code for good. That's not the case. In fact, he says, he hopes to have a dress code of some form in effect by this weekend or next, though he's still hammering out which types of clothing will be banned.

Designing the code is a tough job, he says.

"I don't know what's going to offend someone."