A California book club's removal from a Napa Valley wine tour has sparked outrage on social media. One of the club's members says they were treated unfairly because they were black.
A group of women with the book club Sisters on the Reading Edge boarded the luxurious Napa Valley Wine Train around 11 a.m. on Saturday for an annual excursion to wine country. But soon, the group, which was made up of 10 black women and one white woman, was asked to leave the train.
Lisa Renee Johnson, a member of the club, told the Napa Valley Register that she and the other women were just having a good time: chatting, snapping pictures and streaming their experience on Periscope. But an employee aboard the train told them that other passengers had complained that they were being too loud.
Johnson says that they were "singled out" because they were black.
"It was humiliating. I’m really offended to be quite honest,” Johnson, 47, told SFGate. "I felt like it was a racist attack on us. I feel like we were being singled out."
Accounts of the episode spread across social media this weekend under the hashtag #LaughingWhileBlack.
In a statement Sunday, Wine Train spokeswoman Kira Devitt said that "several parties in the same car" complained, and that the group was warned to "keep the noise to an acceptable level."
Johnson insists that she and her friends weren't 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 Napa Valley 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.'"
When the train pulled into St. Helena, there were police waiting at the station. Johnson told the Register that the group was "paraded through the cars" before exiting.
The women were transported via van to Napa, where they received a refund. Johnson says she wants a public apology from the company.
Chief Jeff Hullquist of the Napa Valley Railroad Police Department told the Independent UK that police are called as a precaution when anyone is let off a train. No arrests or citations were given.
Devitt told the Register that it's not uncommon for people to be removed from the train.
On her Facebook page, Johnson posted photos with other people on the train who she said weren't bothered by their group's laughter. She pointed out that other customers not with their party have criticized the Wine Train's handling of the incident.