“When internet justice is likely the only justice”: Allegations of rape against Matthew Landan result in the closing of Haymarket Whiskey Bar. Are we learning yet?

You may wish to read the third part first.

At least for the moment, the Haymarket Whiskey Bar has ceased to exist. For Matthew Landan, the bar’s owner, the feces hit the fan on November 13, via rape allegations on social media. It’s been a week and a half, and my aim is to digest the news to date in three sections.

  • Part One: Eater is first with the overview.
  • Part Two: Most (if not all) of the coverage so far.
  • Part Three: Erica Rucker’s essay helps me to understand a few harsh realities.

Part One

Seeing as the national Eater food and dining web site apparently takes pride of place as the first to break the story, here’s the overview; originating social media links are included within the text at Eater.

Louisville Bar Staff Quits After Rape Allegation Emerges Against Owner, by Hillary Dixler (Eater)

Women have accused Haymarket Whiskey Bar’s Matthew Landan of sexual misconduct

The staff of Louisville’s five-year-old Haymarket Whiskey Bar have effectively shut down the bar — by refusing to show up for work — after owner Matthew Landan became the subject of a rape accusation that surfaced on social media. “I will comfortably say that every employee refused to open the bar and quit,” manager Eric Snider told Eater when reached for comment. “But we all would like the focus to be on the victims and the crime. Not us. We aren’t important here.”

The walkout was held in response to multiple sexual misconduct allegations against Landan that have surfaced since November 13. On that date, Westley Moore posted a public Facebook message under the still-trending #MeToo hashtag, in which she claims that Landan raped her, clarifying in the comment thread on the post that it allegedly happened in 2013. “Some friends know this already, and I feel it’s time for the rest of you to know and make a stand,” she writes. Eater has reached out to Moore, but has not heard back.

The Facebook post has over 750 shares and over 1,200 reactions, and seems to have kicked off a swift response towards Landan and the bar. On November 14 and 15, multiple staff members posted to Facebook that they no longer were working for Haymarket “under Matthew Landan’s ownership.” Several musicians, DJs, and other groups who performed at the venue have publicly announced they will no longer do business with the bar, and a public protest is planned for Friday evening, in what the organizer describes as a “show of support to those women brave enough to come forward and those who have been silenced.”

That line refers to other women who, inspired by Moore’s post, came forward with their own allegations against Landan in recent days. At least two more misconduct allegations against Landan are currently posted on Facebook.

Eater has reached out to Landan for a comment and has not heard back; the restaurant’s website and Facebook page are no longer active. Former Eater Louisville editor Zach Everson noticed that Landan had posted a statement on his personal Facebook page that has since been taken down, in which Landan describes Moore’s allegations as “serious, false, malicious, and defamatory” …

Part Two. 

The story exploded on social media, and those local new sources we might guardedly refer to as “traditional” (primarily print and television) were deemed by some observers as overly slow to respond.

It strikes me as a sticky wicket. Is “news” something defined by hundreds of people on the Internet, or is it dependent on a vetting process practiced by professionals in traditional media? Can it be both? When is news fake, and when is it real? Who decides?

In short, Walter Cronkite is no more.

Note that LEO Weekly is precisely that; it’s published once a week, though the Metzmeier piece appeared on-line as early as the 20th.

Part Three.

I’m famously opinionated, but there is a time for bloviating and a time for listening. As the Landan rape discussion hit a crescendo on social media, I found myself disconcerted, and more than a little uncomfortable.

What about due process, and rule of law?

But at the same time, don’t revolutions occur precisely because existing rules of law are inadequate as redress to injustice?

In this extended excerpt from Erica Rucker’s weekly column at LEO, Rucker and JoAnne Sweeny explain my discomfort.

It’s the heart of the matter, isn’t it? I remain horrified by rape and by vigilante justice — but as with so many manifestations of conscience and consciousness, there has to be a spot on the map where we take a stand … and in this instance, it’s with the women.

You’re encouraged to click through and read the whole essay — and thanks, Erica. The learning curve is demanding, and your words are just what I needed to hear to be reminded of the way things really are.

THE LEO LIP … WRITING ON THE METRO: When internet justice is likely the only justice, by Erica Rucker (LEO Weekly)

 … So what are we to make of internet justice in instances of sexual assault and in the wake of this most recent local scandal?

JoAnne Sweeny, an associate professor of law at U of L whose areas of expertise include First Amendment issues and women and gender, told LEO, “Using social media, women have found communities of support where they can share their stories and be believed.”

“Doing so has allowed victims to come to terms with their assaults and feel more empowered by talking about them. This sharing has also showed people how pervasive these abuses are.”

It is clear to me that the pervasiveness of toxic masculinity and sexual assault is finally being highlighted throughout our culture at the moment. It is not limited to the stories in Louisville — it has reached the top of our state and federal governments, including our “pussy grabbing” president.

What men have been allowed to do in the shadows is now under a powerful microscope.

“Quite honestly, this vigilantism appears to me to be the next logical step,” Sweeny continued. “No more content to simply listen to each other, women (and men) are now turning to the perpetrators and seeking justice.”

Is internet justice the wrong kind?

As someone asked me before I started writing this piece, “Should we wait for the legal system to have a chance to respond?”

Sweeny said the premise of the question is flawed.

“I think it is a mistake to say that the legal system hasn’t had a chance to respond — it absolutely did and failed,” said Sweeny, adding that some of the local women who posted on Facebook had said their reports to police went unheeded.

“That is the key thing here — vigilante justice usually doesn’t appear in a vacuum — it rises because the legal system has failed to bring about justice.”

That the Facebook page of the bar has been deleted, and the bar has not reopened, is the result of how quickly the news spread and the power of community consensus. Should we feel guilty about how Facebook was used to end this community relationship?

I say absolutely not. I stand with women, always.

Even though this person has not been charged or tried in court, the accusations came from more than one person. The response seems appropriate.

Said Sweeny, “I would, of course, prefer that the law step in and get it right, instead of people spreading stories and leaving no room for the alleged perpetrator to explain his side. But the law is notoriously bad at bringing rapists and those who commit sexual assault to justice and has been for a long time. So, this is an imperfect remedy that has come about because of a broken system that has repeatedly failed women. Women are finding spaces where they are now being believed and they are using that new power to get results. I can’t fault that, really.”

The statistics don’t lie. The justice system, as it is, doesn’t work.

It hasn’t worked for women.

It doesn’t work for people of color and certainly doesn’t serve justice to people without the means for powerful attorneys and expensive bails.

Why do we continue looking toward the justice system for justice?

Sweeny said the stories being posted are powerful. “And they are costing men their livelihoods and communities,” she said. “But I’m not sorry for that. Rape culture is so ingrained in our society that it probably takes a shock to start to undo it. I know many men who are now questioning themselves, worried that they may have transgressed in the past without knowing it. My own husband and I talked about that today. And I told him that I’m glad he feels discomfort.

“Perhaps this is the path we take to get to equality and, yes, men will have to suffer some discomfort. But, honestly, I think it’s their turn.”