Civil rights activists protested outside a Menchie’s frozen yogurt shop after the owner kicked out a black man because employees were “scared” of him.
On Tuesday, victim Byron Ragland and representatives of the Seattle King County NAACP met outside the Kirkland, Wash., Menchie’s store to demand further action, despite owner Ramon Cruz’s apology. “Mr. Ragland is here today to tell his story … this is America’s story, this is the black community’s story,” NAACP President Gerald Hankerson said, according to Seattle news outlet My Northwest. “This is an issue we’ve been talking about for years but it took this incident to bring us out here to Menchie’s today.”
Since the incident on Nov. 7, Ragland and his family have barely slept. “Let me tell you what I think we should do, what is going to make me feel safer in this community, let me tell you what I think is going to inspire change,” the nine-year Air Force veteran said, according to My Northwest. “I think we need to make sure Ramon Cruz is unable to renew his business license here. And when the lease for this store is up, we need to make sure that Byron Ragland has the capital and resources to purchase this Menchie’s and the two other restaurants he owns in this community. That would be a good place to start. That would make me feel a little bit better. That would be a look in the right direction and that is how you punish white supremacy and anti-black behavior — you hit it hard and you hit it fast right in its pockets.”
Ragland said, “They are gonna say he should be able to go on with his life. You know what I say? I say you cannot allow white supremacy to scurry away in the corner and lick its wounds and regroup. You got to keep your foot on white supremacy’s neck. You got to grind your boot into white supremacy’s throat until you hear it stop breathing. And when it’s looking up at you begging for mercy, you show it none. Because over the last 400 years, it hasn’t shown you any. Those are my intentions, that’s my agenda. I ask: How many allies do I still have left?”
Earlier this month, Ragland, 31, a court-appointed special advocate and psychology student at the University of Washington, Tacoma, was ordered to leave Menchie’s while supervising a court-sanctioned outing between a mother and her son, who wanted frozen yogurt, according to the Seattle Times.
After sitting at a Menchie’s table for 30 minutes, two police officers arrived. “They asked me to leave,” Ragland told the newspaper. “They asked for my ID. They told me the manager had been watching me and wanted me to move along.”
According to an audio of the 911 call, Cruz, who was not in the store that day, received a phone call from his employees who were concerned about Ragland’s presence. “There is one guy who is sitting in the corner, hasn’t bought anything, he’s been sitting there for over 30 minutes,” Cruz told the dispatcher. “They’re kinda scared because he looks suspicious. He just keeps looking at the phone and looking at them.”
Cruz said that his all-female staff is “very cautious” due to past incidents involving robberies and homeless people shooting drugs in the restroom, and requested that police tell Ragland to “move along.” He also stated that Ragland was alone in the store.
After speaking to officers, Ragland and his clients left Menchie’s and according to the police report, the employees were “both thankful that Ragland was gone.”
“You listen to that 911 call. He says right in there that I’m not doing anything,” Ragland, who could not be reached by Yahoo Lifestyle for comment, told the Seattle Times. “But that’s all it takes in America — for you to be black, and to be somewhere you’re not supposed to be. And where you’re supposed to be is not up to you. It’s up to somebody else’s opinion.”
On Monday, the local police department posted a public apology. “The City of Kirkland and the Kirkland Police Department would like to extend our sincerest apologies to Mr. Byron Ragland and the residents and businesses of Kirkland for the events at Menchie’s Yogurt in Totem Lake on November 7.”
“We take our commitment to fostering a safe, welcoming and inclusive community very seriously. When we first learned of the incident we asked our Detectives to immediately initiate an investigation. Today we were presented with the preliminary findings of that investigation,” read the announcement. “Our initial assessment showed that the interaction that occurred did not meet the expectations of our community or the high standards we set for ourselves. As a result, Mr. Ragland and the other individuals with him were left feeling unwelcome in Kirkland. No one regrets this more than the men and women of the Kirkland Police Department. We are truly sorry.”
Also on Monday, Cruz closed Menchie’s for the day and hung a note of apology on his storefront, which read, according to My Northwest, “We are truly sorry about what occurred at our store on Nov. 7. We humbly apologize to Mr. Ragland for what he experienced during his visit. This does not reflect our values, and we are genuinely sorry. We are in the process of reaching out to Mr. Ragland with a formal apology. We would also like to humbly apologize to everyone, as events such as these affect our community.” The store tweeted a similar message.
“I’ve represented computer scientists, parents and homeless shelter workers and the commonality is their race and mistreatment,” Ragland’s attorney James Bell of the James Bible Law Group tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “We claim to give store owners the right to refuse service but when that right has a racial impact, we have to address the bigger problem.”
The lawyer says that during 911 calls, “code” is often used while describing people of color to justify removing them from public areas. For example, Cruz mentioned his employees were “scared” and informed the operator that “robberies” and drug use had once occurred in his store. “It’s important to point out that the employees didn’t interact with Byron at all before calling the police,” Bell says.
Ragland is exploring legal actions, including litigation. “Apologies don’t mean much unless they’re accompanied by change,” he says. “And if someone loses their business license as a result, it sends an immediate message to that person and others in the community.”
He adds that despite Ragland’s position as a U.S. veteran and government employee, he was judged by the color of his skin, raising the question, “What do people of color need to do in order to be trusted in this country?”
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