MT Pockets given permission to reopen nearly one month after racially charged confrontation
MT Pockets, the Hertel Avenue bar that was the site of a racially charged confrontation between patrons and protesters earlier this month, was given permission to reopen Monday by the Erie County Department of Health.
The health department, at MT Pockets’ request, sent the bar a letter on Friday permitting it to open its doors effective Monday, said health department spokesperson Kara Kane in an email. Boards were removed from the bars' windows over the weekend.
MT Pockets voluntarily closed on Sept. 2, a day after videos showed its patrons confronting and using racial slurs against protesters who were marching in the street for racial justice. Buffalo Police Department officers had to separate the two groups.
The health department asked MT Pockets to shut down while it investigated whether the bar violated New York state’s COVID-19 regulations, as videos of the confrontation showed a crowded patio of patrons not wearing masks and socially distancing.
MT Pockets submitted a corrective action plan of how it will follow COVID-19 regulations and the plan was approved by the health department, according to Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz.
“If they're following the plan, then they should have the right to reopen,” said Poloncarz at a press conference Monday. “Most of the time the health inspectors come out, they give a warning and say, ‘OK, you violated this here, but we're not going to shut you down, we're not going to fine you, do this. … We'll be back to check in the next week or so.’ And if they follow the rules, then everything's fine. So most of the time it’s a warning, but with that one, as we all know, there was a significant violation.”
Poloncarz and other local Democrats have held numerous fundraisers at MT Pockets in recent years. Poloncarz has vowed to no longer do so, while the Erie County Democratic Committee has said it will no longer accept donations from the bar’s co-owner, Phil Alagna.
The ugly confrontation Sept. 1 outside MT Pockets came during a racial justice protest that marched down Hertel Avenue. The protest was in response to another Hertel protest a few days earlier on Aug. 28 in which a counter-protester brandished a knife and used racial slurs.
A Franklinville man, Michael Cremen, 47, was charged with a hate crime for the incident.
Protesters alleged Cremen and another counter-protester had been patronizing at MT Pockets before the Aug. 28 incident. However, MT Pockets’ ownership has denied the men were ever at their bar and said they were trying to explain that to protesters during the Sept. 1 confrontation.
More protests were held outside MT Pockets in the days after the confrontation, including an economic racism protest that called on all Hertel Avenue businesses to denounce racism, welcome Black customers and support Black-owned businesses.
WBFO left a message for MT Pockets owners Monday afternoon, but did not hear back. The owners previously released a statement apologizing for the confrontation and saying they do not condone racism.