This is America: Coffee, Waffles, Handcuffs, and the Fight Against Police Brutality

CAIR-Philadelphia, in its endeavors to pursue justice, has joined in the fight to end police brutality.

Our office presently represents a man wrongfully detained by local law enforcement for a period of ten days. The day before officers detained him, he conversed with a coworker about being a proud Muslim, among other things. That coworker reported him to local law enforcement as a potential terror threat. The gentleman was subsequently detained for a period of ten days, nine of which in solitary confinement, though never formally charged with any crime.

In the time there since, he has received significant harassment from local law enforcement (nearly all of whom reference his initial detention), particularly during routine traffic stops, and the FBI also sought to question him. During one recent traffic stop, he was charged with resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, and a litany of other related charges when he questioned why the officer stopped him. I represented him concerning this matter, and had all but one of the charges dropped. I also represented him when the FBI questioned him. I am presently working with another civil rights attorney in the city to initiate a lawsuit against the police department that initially detained this man.

In my newsletter article last month, I referenced the troubling death of Stephon Clark, who died after two Sacramento police officers shot at him twenty times, with at least eight bullets reportedly striking him in the back. In the time there since, several news stories have signaled increased attention to the epidemic of police brutality and racial profiling that often feeds into it. Those stories — the arrest of Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson at a Center City Starbucks, the violent arrest of Chikesia Clemons at a Waffle House in Saraland, AL, among others—reveal the harrowing reality police brutality for millions of Americans.

Starbucks has announced it will close all of its 8,000+ stores in the US later this month to conduct a one-day anti-bias training in response to outrage and mounting concerns over the arrest of Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson in the Starbucks located at 18th and Spruce on April 12th. Mr. Nelson and Mr. Robinson were arrested in the Starbucks while awaiting a friend’s arrival. A barista at the Starbucks called the Philadelphia police within two minutes of them entering the coffeeshop, alleging the two “refused to make a purchase or leave.” Several police officers arrived within minutes of the call, then proceeded to arrest the two. Melissa DePino, a principal at a marketing and communications firm with offices in the area, captured the arrest on her cell phone, then circulated the footage of the arrest via Twitter. The footage’s viral spread prompted significant outrage locally and nationally. Mr. Nelson and Mr. Robinson have reached a settlement with the city of Philadelphia that secures its commitment to a pilot program for young entrepreneurs, in addition to the symbolic payment of $1 to each of them.

Ms. Chikesia Clemons requested plastic cutlery upon placing an order at the Waffle House on Industrial Parkway in Saraland, AL last month. A Waffle House employee advised the plastic utensils would cost 50 cents. Ms. Clemons responded by indicating that she patronized the same Waffle House the night before, and no one charged her for plastic utensils. The Waffle House employee canceled her order. Ms. Clemons asked for the number for the Waffle House corporate offices to raise a complaint, the employee told her to wait while for her to retrieve it. The Waffle House employee called the police instead while Ms. Clemons waited for her to bring a card with the corporate office telephone number on it. The police arrived on the scene within minutes, and subsequently arrested Ms. Clemons in terrifying fashion, violently slamming her to the floor and ripping her dress off of her (exposing her breasts), in the process. “They didn’t even ask her to leave, she was waiting for them to give her the district manager’s card so she could file a complaint on one of the waitresses,” Mrs. Chiquitta Clemons-Howard, Ms. Clemons’ mother, told AL.com.

Ms. Clemons’ violent arrest has caused outrage nationwide, prompted a local sit-in led by the Mobile County NAACP at the Waffle House in question, and a subsequent townhall meeting.

Mr. Nelson and Mr. Robinson’s story, Ms. Clemons story, in addition to many other stories, e.g., the racial profiling of four women leaving an Airbnb rental; the racial profiling of two prospective students visiting Colorado State University; a country club calling the police on five African American members because they allegedly played golf too slowly; a Yale student calling campus police on an African American student who fell asleep in the common area of the dorm; and neighbors calling the police on an African American man moving into his new apartment because they presumed he was a burglar, further illustrate sustained concerns regarding how the police are routinely summoned to respond to minor complaints involving people of color.

As I have written previously, without question, scores of men and women perform their jobs in law enforcement admirably, routinely risking their lives for people they may never meet again; yet those brave men and women’s honorable service does not nullify the existence of systematic injustices exhibited through police brutality. Where there is abuse in authority from law enforcement, there must be accountability. Consequently, CAIR-Philadelphia has joined in the fight to combat police brutality in its endeavors to pursue justice.