Byron Ragland was sitting in a Menchie's yogurt shop doing his job and harming no one when the police arrived.
In yet another #LivingWhileBlack incident, 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.
Ragland's job is to be with families during a court-ordered visitation, making sure nothing goes awry. The mother and son had wanted ice cream, so they went to Menchie's. The only "suspicious" thing Ragland did was not order anything; he was simply there as an observer, waiting and monitoring while this mother and son had their visitation.
“Just being a fly on the wall type of thing is what I do,” Ragland told KIRO 7 News. “Sit on back and just watch them visit, you know. Document the visit.”
The employees didn't know that, of course, because they were apparently too scared to approach a person sitting at a table on a cell phone in their yogurt shop to find out what he was doing.
A group supporting Ragland has launched a petition demanding that the Kirkland Police Department apologize to him for the incident.
The 911 call is laughable—and yet Ragland was asked to leave anyway.
Ramon Cruz, the owner of the Menchie's who called 911, didn't say that Ragland was armed, behaving aggressively, causing a scene, or disturbing other customers. He said his employees had said he hadn't ordered anything, had been sitting in the shop for over 30 minutes, and looked "suspicious." Cruz explained that they'd had incidents in the store before with homeless people shooting up drugs in the bathroom and that they'd been robbed. The employees were "scared."
Now, judging by what we can hear in the 911 call, the only thing that might appear odd is that Ragland didn't order anything. He did, however, arrive with the mother and son. They were still in the shop, so that should have been a clue. As far as looking up from his phone, that seems like a pretty reasonable thing to do when a someone keeps looking at you suspiciously.
At this point, perhaps it was all just an unfortunate misunderstanding. Surely the police would straighten things out and the man would be left to do his job, right?
Why didn't the Kirkland police tell the employees they'd been wrong and walk away?
When the officers showed up at Ragland's table, Ragland explained who he was and what he was doing. The mother and son spoke up and confirmed that he was there legally supervising their visit.
That should have been the end of it, in theory. “They asked me to leave,” Ragland told The Seattle Times. “They asked for my ID. They told me the manager had been watching me and wanted me to move along.”
The police report states Ragland and his "associates" left after the officers requested his full information and the names of the mother and son he was there to supervise. Now, perhaps it's police protocol to collect information and file a report any time they are called, but why should this man have to go through all of that when he was doing nothing but his job? Why didn't the police just go up to the shop staff and tell them they had nothing to worry about?
Sadly, for Ragland, this was "just another Wednesday."
“You listen to that 911 call. He says right in there that I’m not doing anything,” Ragland 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.”
Ragland said that although he was frustrated, as a black man he has to measure his response to such things.
“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.”
Ragland's response to hearing the 911 call afterward was initially anger, which, he told reporter Danny Westneat, he tempered into sadness so he wouldn't be seen as the Angry Black Man. When asked for his reaction to the incident, Ragland replied sadly, "My reaction is this is just another Wednesday."
“How would you feel hearing that you made people so scared and uncomfortable that they called the police?” he said. “For me, that’s just Wednesday. I try not to let it consume me. But it’s hard not to conclude that I walk around in a certain skin, and that’s all that matters.”
Heartbreaking. For the love of all that is just and reasonable, can we please stop calling the cops on black people for living their lives?