A video went viral this week of a burly, white police officer violently grabbing 22-year-old Anthony Wall by the throat and slamming him to the ground outside a Waffle House restaurant in the town of Warsaw, North Carolina.
Even before the brutal takedown last weekend of the young African American man there were calls for a boycott of the popular coffee shop chain, a favorite across the southern United States.
Wall had taken his 16-year-old sister to her high school prom on Saturday, and had stopped at the establishment as their evening was winding down. Police responded to a call after Wall got into an argument with Waffle House workers. Video of the arrest, with the young man still wearing his tuxedo, was posted on Facebook and eventually made its way to local and national news broadcasts.
Wall admitted he was probably in the wrong in quarreling with the restaurant staff. But said that in no way justified the way he was manhandled by the Warsaw policeman.
“I was pretty much trying to scream for air and trying to breathe because he was holding my throat,” he told ABC11. “Your hands should have never been around my neck like that if my hands were in the air.”
It was just the latest in a series of incidents in which police were condemned for overly-aggressive treatment of black patrons at a Waffle House, and it has led to a call by civil rights leaders that patrons take their business elsewhere.
Among those calling for a boycott of Waffle House is Bernice King, daughter of civil rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr. and director of the King Center, the organization dedicated to preserve her father’s legacy.
Family, let’s stay out of @WaffleHouse until the corporate office legitimately and seriously commits to 1) discussion on racism, 2) employee training, and 3) other plans to change; and until they start to implement changes. https://t.co/NJWFOBKN7i
— Be A King (@BerniceKing) May 10, 2018
On Thursday, King wrote on Twitter, “Family, let’s stay out of @WaffleHouse until the corporate office legitimately and seriously commits to 1) discussion on racism, 2) employee training, and 3) other plans to change; and until they start to implement changes.”
In a follow-up tweet, the civil rights activist alluded to another recent violent arrest of a Waffle House patron. Just a few weeks ago, police scuffled with a black woman they claimed had become belligerent at a Waffle House in Saraland, Alabama, pinning her to the ground and in the process exposing her breasts. At one point, one of the responding officers can be heard threatening to break her arm.
A @WaffleHouse employee called the police on #ChikesiaClemons after she asked for the number for the corporate office. Ms. Clemons was violated by police. Her breasts were exposed. It barely garnered national attention. Do #BlackLivesMatter? Do #BlackWomenMatter?
— Be A King (@BerniceKing) May 10, 2018
Many of the initial calls for a boycott stem from that incident in Alabama, after police and other local officials said they stood by the conduct of the arresting officers. Local officials in Warsaw said investigations are underway, but also expressed initial support for police.
The NAACP Legal Defense Fund issued a formal statement expressing outrage over the North Carolina arrest, as well as what it called the “dehumanizing” police action at the Waffle House in Alabama.
“In both cases, the Black customers were reportedly unarmed and non-violent. Neither situation warranted police intervention, let alone such gratuitous use-of-force. Waffle House must conduct an extensive review and overhaul of its policies to ensure that employees do not needlessly subject customers of color to police contact and brutality,” the organization’s president Sherrilyn Ifill wrote in her statement. “Police officials are not a private security force for untrained Waffle House employees. Waffle House cannot continue to avoid this issue.”
The two incidents are the latest in a rapidly-multiplying series of disturbing encounters in which white people call for police intervention against police people of color doing fairly ordinary things.
A few reasons people called the cops on black people:
• waiting in @Starbucks
• napping in a @Yale dorm
• renting an @AirBnB
• golfing at @GrandviewGC
• shopping at @NordstromRack
• buying a belt at @BarneysNY
• BB gun shopping at @Walmart
• wearing a hoodie in the rain
— Keith Boykin (@keithboykin) May 10, 2018
An African American woman daring to fall asleep in a Yale University common area. Two black men arrested for having the temerity to use the bathroom while waiting for a friend at a Philadelphia Starbucks. Two Native American brothers pulled out of a campus visit after a white woman told campus police the youths had the gall to be too quiet while walking around with the tour, and therefore seemed suspicious.
Going even further back, there are echoes of 17-year old Trayvon Martin, fatally shot by wannabe policeman George Zimmerman while talking on his cell phone one evening, eating Skittles while he walked in his father’s gated community in Florida.
Georgetown professor Michael Eric Dyson on Thursday told CNN that the proliferation of incidents is all part of broader racial code in which actions are seen as being provocative when carried out by black people, yet are seen as harmless and ordinary if done by whites.
“The biases are held by people against black people. We know right away there’s a racial code that triggers the doubt and skepticism to begin with,” he told CNN.
“It’s not just what black folks do and what cops think they have done or not done. You can’t go to Waffle House, you can’t fall asleep, you can’t sell loosies on the street, you can’t sell C.D.s. You can’t tell a cop in Atlanta, I have a gun, I’m letting you know, and seven seconds later he’s dead,” said Dyson, who teaches sociology at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
What is at work, he said, is “the fear and skepticism of blackness, the notion that black people themselves are illegitimate. We have the president of the United States question the man who had the job before him along these same lines.
Dyson continued: “White people sitting at Starbucks don’t got the cops called on them, black people do…. It’s not just the fault of the police, it’s the fault of the larger society.”