Byron Ragland experienced something earlier this month that is unfortunately common within the United States and throughout its history. He was asked to “move along” for little more than existing as a person of color.
“Essentially from my perspective,” said James Bible, former member of the NAACP and now a civil rights attorney who is representing Ragland. “We’re in a place where this particular establishment judged Mr. Byron by the color of his skin as opposed to the content of his character…Rather than seeing him as a court-appointed special advocate who’s dedicated to keeping families together, they only looked at his black skin and determined it was suspicious.”
Ragland was supervising a court-ordered visitation between a mother and child on Nov. 7 at a Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt shop in Kirkland. According to an initial column by The Seattle Times, the child wanted ice cream, so the trio went to the Menchie’s in Totem Lake. Ragland was sitting one table over from the mother and child, nobody asked him why he was there, but after about 30 minutes, the shop owner called 911 and the dispatcher sent an officer to question Ragland and ask him to leave.
The trio left after the officer followed through with the request, telling Ragland to “move along” and asking for his and the mother’s information. The incident would later cause outrage after The Seattle Times column detailed the incident on Nov. 16.
The story gained national attention leading Bible, Ragland and NAACP Seattle King County President Gerald Hankerson to speak at a protest outside the Menchie’s on Nov. 20.
“King County [is] where this occurred,” Hankerson said in a speech during the protest. “We live in a world where people have fought for the right to be able to sit in a restaurant. This ain’t [a] world where we [are] no longer allowed to sit at the counter.”
The 911 call, released by The Seattle Times, revealed that the location owner, Ramon Cruz, had called police after two female employees reported that Ragland was alone, “sitting in the corner, hasn’t bought anything, has been sitting there for over 30 minutes,” and they felt “scared because he looks suspicious.”
Cruz justified his call to the dispatcher, saying that the employees were nervous because all his staff are women and there had been previous incidents involving homeless people “shooting up” in the bathroom and a robbery. He later mentioned Ragland was “African American” after the dispatcher asked for the suspicious person’s skin color.
Bible said he is disappointed that when law enforcement was called to the scene, they asked Ragland to leave.
“Rather than seeing him as a decorated military veteran, they just saw his black skin,” Bible said. “Rather than being in a space where they saw him as a University of Washington student, he’s just trying to do the best that he can, they deemed his black skin to be suspicious.”
The city of Kirkland, Kirkland Police Department and Menchie’s have apologized to Ragland, but Ragland and his supporters are still going after Cruz. At the protest, Bible warned of upcoming legal action, saying he believes discrimination laws were broken during the incident.
The outrage surrounding the incident caused Kirkland police to start an internal investigation that is still ongoing.
“Mr. Ragland left Menchie’s feeling that he was unwelcome in Kirkland based on his race,” city manager Kurt Triplett and police Chief Cherie Harris said in a joint statement, issued on Nov. 21. “We want to reiterate our sincere apology to Mr. Ragland and all parties for the result of this encounter…In reviewing preliminary findings, we have determined that the arriving officers missed the opportunity to mediate between Mr. Ragland and the shop owner to a better outcome.”
Currently, Kirkland plans to provide each city employee with implicit bias training in 2019; internally review “unwanted person” and “trespass” dispatch calls; start a dialogue with local business owners in the chamber of commerce; and contact NORCOM to review Cruz’s 911 call and the protocols around this type of call.
The city acknowledged that “this is just the start and there is much more to do,” and launched a community outreach strategy that held its first meeting on Nov. 27 — after the Reporter’s print deadline — with help from Kirkland Safe, Kirkland Indivisible and Leadership Eastside.
In light of the Nov. 20 protest, Menchie’s posted an apology on the Totem Lake storefront and closed the location for the day to train staff. Cruz had not responded to requests for comments as of the Reporter’s Tuesday deadline.
“We humbly apologize to Mr. Ragland for what he experienced during his visit. This does not reflect our values, and we are genuinely sorry,” the letter read. “[We are closed] in order to conduct training to our staff, so that we can make sure that this will not happen again in our store.”
For Ragland and his supporters, this is too little too late.
“The training should’ve happened before you got hired. Not after this incident,” Hankerson said at the protest.
Cruz, his employees and the Kirkland officer who asked Ragland to move along are accused by many of acting unreasonably on implicit biases. Specifically, Ragland and his supporters imply the employees felt unsafe, Cruz called the police and the officer asked Ragland to leave simply because he is a black man and not because he was actually exhibiting any threatening or suspicious behavior.
Implicit bias is defined by the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity (KISRE) as a favorable or unfavorable assessment residing deep in the subconscious. An implicit bias is present in all individuals and developed over a lifetime. Essentially, everyone has numerous unconscious biases, formed by their own life experiences, that cause them to unintentionally react to other people based solely on their characteristics such as race, ethnicity, age and appearance.
People generally hold implicit biases that favor their own ingroup, according to KISRE. In Ragland’s situation, this implies that the two employees were more likely to act favorably toward someone of their own skin color and unfavorably toward someone of a different complexion.
Opposing views online say that the two employees were justified in feeling nervous because of several previous incidents mentioned by Cruz in the 911 call and because Ragland is a man.
Ragland argues that Cruz, his employees and the Kirkland officer displayed implicit biases and anti-black behavior by calling the police, assuming he was ill-intentioned and following through with asking him to leave after he revealed his reason for being there.
“I’m not getting any kind of compensation for taking on the additional duties of educating and informing the progressive Pacific Northwest about implicit bias and anti-black sentiment,” Ragland said in a speech at the protest. “We should definitely boycott this store. Those two young ladies [who] were very petrified, they definitely should take a break from work, especially from the customer service realm.”
Importance of action
Ragland called for further action at the Nov. 20 protest, asking his supporters to help ensure that Cruz is unable to renew his business license and, when the time comes, ensure Ragland has the capital and resources to purchase the Menchie’s and other businesses Cruz owns.
“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,” Ragland said in his speech. “That’s how you punish white supremacy and anti-black behavior, you hit it hard and you hit it fast, right in its pockets…How much of that Internet outrage is going to translate into tangible quantifiable resources? Results. No symbolic gestures. No sloganisms.”
The ongoing online dialogue has been controversial with many speaking out in support of Ragland, but some supporting Cruz and his employees.
The viewpoints vary in comments on the Reporter’s Facebook page. Some say the employees were justified in feeling unsafe, that Ragland was acting strangely or had a responsibility to buy something himself or tell the employees why he was there. Others claim a business owner ought to be able to remove anyone from their store if they’re acting suspiciously or that Ragland should simply accept the apology and move on.
“A lot of people are going to say that the social media backlash he got this week is punishment enough. They’re going to say he should be allowed to go on with his life,” Ragland said during his speech. “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’ve got to keep your foot on white supremacy’s neck. You’ve 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 in the last 400 years it hasn’t shown you any.”
Locals can look for further coverage of the city’s community outreach strategy and Ragland’s potential lawsuit at www.kirkland reporter.com.