The Seattle Times reports that yet another paranoid phone call to the police has resulted in yet another humiliating and unjust experience for yet another unsuspecting black person in America.
U.S. Air Force veteran and court-appointed visitation supervisor Byron Ragland was sitting in a Kirkland, Washington Menchie’s frozen yogurt shop supervising a visit between a woman and her 12-year-old son, when two employees called the shop owner to tell him they felt “scared.” The owner then looked at surveillance camera footage, which showed Ragland sitting at a table and looking back and forth from his phone to the employees—who from the sounds of it appeared to be watching him—and decided to call the police.
The boy wanted ice cream, so the three drove to Menchie’s, arrived together and had been sitting there for about half an hour, visiting, when Ragland looked up to find two police officers standing at the table.
Ragland did “Move along,” he says – though that phrase, as if he were a stray dog, made him bristle.
“You want to stand up for yourself, as a man, or as someone who was just doing his job, and say ‘hey, this isn’t right.’ But in the moment I’m thinking: ‘I’m a black man, and If I start emoting, I might not walk out of here.’ And so you rationalize to yourself: ‘What’s the big deal, it’s just Menchie’s, just leave.’ But then later, you realize that you gave in—that you consented that this is the way it’s going to be, to always be. Living this kind of mental life will drive a person insane.”
The police report reflects that the Kirkland officers were told he was there working.
“Ragland had two associates with him, who stated they were there with him for visitation,” the report says.
“Store employees told me that he had been in the store for a while and did not buy anything, and he was not making them feel comfortable,” says an “Unwanted subject” report.
The employees “Were both thankful that Ragland was gone.”
Ragland is a nine-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force, a staff sergeant who served as a jet-engine mechanic in Turkey, Germany and Qatar.
Of course I have not yet mentioned another defining feature about Ragland – the one that, at least in this story, seems to him to be all anybody can see.
The 911 call alone is like a three-minute case study in implicit bias and assumptions.
The store owner, Ramon Cruz, called 911 and asked the police to come in part because Ragland had been sitting there not ordering anything.
The owner was not at the store, but was calling on behalf of two store employees, who are both identified in the police report as female and white.
Cruz tells the dispatcher that Ragland is African American.
There’s no mention that Ragland had arrived with a mother and child, both of whom are white.
I say this is astonishing, but it sure isn’t to Ragland.
“You listen to that 911 call. He says right in there that I’m not doing anything,” Ragland said about the store owner’s call.
Ragland said he’s used to people questioning what a black man is doing with white families, or supervising kids.
In this case no one at the store bothered to ask – apparently because they were too afraid of him, according to the 911 call.
The store owner, Cruz, said the police call had nothing to do with race.
He said the store employees were not aware Ragland was with the mother and son, because he was sitting adjacent to them.
One reason this story is potent to me is that it doesn’t conventionally qualify as “News.” There’s no harrowing video of a confrontation, nor did Ragland go to the media.
Ragland also wasn’t arrested, as happened in the infamous Starbucks incident in Philadelphia in April.
I told Ragland that I would just try to present his story.
Why in the world are the Kirkland police functioning as uncritical mall cops? Why didn’t anybody ask Ragland what was going on? How in the year 2018 are we still this clueless, to the point of being dehumanizing, around the issue of race?
For its part, the Kirkland police announced Saturday, after this column was published online, that it would investigate whether officers followed department protocol.
At the end of our interview, Ragland allowed that listening to the 911 call did make him angry.