Roy Exum: The Bella Vita Story

Tuesday, February 14, 2017 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

There is a Southside restaurant that reportedly scoffed at the suggestion of a dress code about this time last year, saying it would “kill” business at Bella Vita’s late-night ultra lounge. What a strange word to use. The security guards still did pat-downs and wouldn’t allow any hats but, within a year after the restaurant took over the former ‘Niko’s on the Southside’ building, the clientele really began to radically change.

Ever since the Southside Social, a new venture that has bowling lanes, dancing, and a bar, announced a strict dress code last week, there has been an angry outcry from the liberal types, claiming the rules are blatantly racial. But now another downtown venue, the wildly-popular music bar, JJ’s Bohemia on East MLK, has announced a dress code and other night spots are “seriously considering” the same. Why? Look no further than the two separate shootings at the now-shuttered Bella Vita last spring.

At first everything appeared to be on the up-and-up. Ronnie Berke, the uncle of Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, was identified as the primary owner of Bella Vita while Tammie Taylor, a woman with a spotty past, appeared to be a minority owner. But by early 2016, the gangstas and the thugs were beginning to show up and the outstanding restaurant business – where the profits are made – was starting to dry up for the very reasons the “snowflakes” dare not discuss.

On March 12, 2016, Reuben Simpson, 35, was shot in the head at 3:20 a.m. outside Bella Vita, located at the corner of Cowart and Carter Streets. Owner/manager Taylor immediately insisted that things were safe inside.

Security guards gave police a description of the shooter, who had been inside the lounge with Simpson earlier, but the same security types were quietly telling their friends to avoid Bella Vita, where fights and altercations were getting worse but now carefully shielded from police and the news media because it was “bad for business.”

Less than two months later, on May 8, 2016, a retired Marine, 40-year-old Johnny Sanders, was filling in as a security guard when he was shot and killed after escorting a troublemaker out of the ultra lounge for fighting. Other security guards nearby wrestled down Andrew Wilson, 31, and identified him as the assailant.

What is ironic is that some 23 hours earlier, Wilson had posted on his Facebook page, “We turning up tomorrow @ Bella Vita! Saturday Nightz live in full effect. Come kick it with the party executives & a host of beautiful women … security and police in full effect!! So leave your gang-banging and set tripping at your house.”

At 2:12 a.m. on that Sunday morning, police responded to another shooting scene at Bella Vita. After Wilson was tossed out, security guard Sanders was trading punches with another ruffian – who turned out to be Wilson’s cousin -- when Wilson shot the former Marine just three days shy of his 41st birthday. Wilson told arresting officers it was self-defense.

That is the alibi Wilson was hoping to use in a June 15, 2016, trial after he allegedly shot and killed a Red Bank man six times with a .45 pistol. In April 2013 he was charged with criminal homicide in the shooting death of Desmond McClure. Police say the 28-year-old was found lying on the sidewalk on East Main Street. Like the security guard, McClure was also shot in the chest. According to court records, two months after that shooting Wilson posted bond and was released from the Hamilton County Jail.

There are a number of “shooters” out on bond in our city right now. That’s their Constitutional right as Americans, but, my lands, we’ve had a shooting in each of the last three days. In a way, all three have been racial because only one race has been involved. Sadly, any crime that doesn’t include whites is racial these days. My heart bleeds over the insinuation because every victim and every shooter is an American and all that truly matters is that the color of our blood is all the same.

Does the clothing style somebody has the freedom to wear make them a gangsta or a thug? Of course not, but why do predominantly-black high schools like Howard and Tyner require uniforms? Do you realize that any black person can wear their sibling’s high school uniform and be admitted anywhere there is a dress code?

Because of a great minority of creeps who have come ahead of us, today’s restrictions and senseless rules are part of the American landscape. We must take off our shoes to ride in an airplane. Any person who obviously appears to be 60 or 70 – I promise we can all tell – must show an ID to buy beer at the grocery store. Yet it doesn’t bother me to play by the rules.

What bothers me are those who are so caught up in their anger and disappointment with life seem to want to protest any new idea or preventable action that just may happen to work. So, try on this: I am of the belief that had there been a dress code that dissuaded gangstas and thugs at Bella Vita, one or two people may not have been shot in just less than a year ago.

Yes, the restaurant and ultra lounge closed permanently several weeks after the second shooting. Only now you know the real reason why.

* * *

Today marks the 88th anniversary of the spectacular St. Valentine’s Day massacre in Chicago where seven members of the Moran gang were lined up and shot execution style. All of America was horrified.

So far in 2017, there have been 66 killed and 340 wounded within the Chicago city limits. Note, those numbers are approximate, since somebody new is shot about every two hours. This time last year, there had been 57 killed and 246 in 2016. That’s 94 more shootings than last year on Feb. 13.

Donald Trump isn’t going to stand silent much longer.

royexum@aol.com



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