The Huffington Post reports the incident involved a group of women with the Sisters on the Reading Edge book club, who boarded the Napa Valley Wine Train around 11 a.m. on Saturday for an annual trip to the wine country.
According to Lisa Renee Johnson, a member of the club, the group, which was comprised of 10 black women and one white woman, were just having a good time on the train as they chatted, snapped pictures and streamed their experience on Periscope. She goes on to tell the Napa Valley Register that an employee aboard the train told them that other passengers had complained that they were being too loud.
In Johnson’s eyes, she stated that the group was “singled out” because they were black.
“It was humiliating. I’m really offended to be quite honest,” the 47-year-old book club member told SFGate. “I felt like it was a racist attack on us. I feel like we were being singled out.”
News of the group’s experience on the Napa Valley train sent waves across social media this weekend as the hashtag #LaughingWhileBlack was created.
Kira Devitt, a spokeswoman for the Wine Train, responded to the uproar Sunday (Aug. 23) with a statement, saying that “several parties in the same car” complained, and that the group was warned to “keep the noise to an acceptable level.”
Countering the Wine Train statement, Johnson insisted that neither she nor any of her friends were doing anything wrong.
“She said people were complaining and I said, ‘Who’s complaining?’ And she said, ‘Well, people’s faces are uncomfortable,'” Johnson told the Register. “At that point, one passenger nearby said, ‘Well, this is not a bar.’ We reacted, ‘Yes, it is a bar, a bar on wheels.'”
Johnson went on to mention that the group was “paraded through the cars” by police before exiting the train. Authorities were waiting at the station, when the Napa Valley wine trained pulled into St. Helena. After exiting the train, police transported the ladies in a van to Napa. It was there that the book club members received a refund.
Speaking with the Independent UK, Napa Valley Railroad Police Department Chief Jeff Hullquist explained the police presence at the station by stating that they are called as a precaution when anyone is let off a train. No arrests or citations were given for the incident, according to the Post.
Although Devitt mentioned to the Register that it’s not uncommon for people to be removed from the train, that doesn’t sit well with Johnson, who wants a public apology from the company.
Taking to Facebook, Johnson put the incident on blast with making it known that the group’s enjoyment did not strike a negative chord with other people on the train. To illustrate her point, Johnson posted photos with other train passengers who she said weren’t bothered by their group’s laughter.
The Wine Train’s handling of the incident has been met with negative feedback for the company, with its Yelp profile being flooded with one-star reviews to go along with Johnson sharing that criticism of the company was given by other customers who were not with their party.