Apologies Aren't Enough When Police Are Called On A Black Man For Literally Doing His Job

by Love Barnett
Originally Published: 

In case you missed this story, because god knows the world is such a dumpster fire lately that we’re in danger of becoming desensitized to outrageous abuses of 911 when it comes to criminalizing black people for simply existing, let me start with the most current updates to the latest example of white people using the police as a weapon.

In the simplest of explanations, a black man in Seattle, Byron Ragland, was doing his job, supervising a custodial visitation in a frozen yogurt shop when employees called 911. The police came, and he was asked to leave.

Outraged protests have now led the owner to apologize and state that employees will undergo implicit bias training. In addition, the Seattle Times reports that Kirkland City Manager Kurt Triplett and police Chief Cherie Harris will also include members of the City Council in the training. The police department has also announced they have launched an internal investigation, and the city has apologized and said it would evaluate it’s policies and practices to make adjustments.

But more than an apology, Mr. Ragland wants accountability.

“I’m not accepting anybody’s apology,” he said. “You know, if you want to apologize to me, let’s change some practices. Let’s change some policies.”

Byron Ragland, aside from being a human person who has the right to exist in public space without being harassed, is a US Air Force veteran, currently studying psychology at the University of Washington, Tacoma, and more relevantly, currently works as a court-appointed special advocate and a visitation supervisor, which means he supervises meetings between children and their parents who do not have custody of them.

At the time of the incident on November 7, 2018, Ragland was supervising a visit with a mother and her 12-year-old son. According to the Seattle Times, the little boy wanted ice cream, so they went to Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt. The three 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.

Mr. Ragland tells KIRO 7’s Deborah Horne, “Just being a fly on the wall type of thing is what I do. Sit back and just watch them visit. You know, document the visit.”

He says that no one from the shop ever spoke to him or approached him at all, but after the trio had been there for about half an hour, he was startled to look up to find two police officers.

“Pretty much I look up, and these two police officers [are] standing in front [of me]. They asked me to leave,” Ragland said. “They asked for my ID. They told me the manager had been watching me and wanted me to move along.”

Ragland said he explained the situation. “I gave them my name initially. My client who was with me, she reassured them ‘Oh, he’s with us, he’s working. What’s going on?’”

The police report reflects that the Kirkland officers were told he was there working. In fact, that he was legally required to be there supervising the visit between mother and son. He was asked to leave anyway, and he did without incident.

Ramon Cruz, the store owner, had called 911 when one of his employees texted asking for help. Cruz then called 911 and asked the police to come, ostensibly on behalf of the two store employees identified as white and female — who, again, never approached or spoke to Ragland at all, but instead texted their boss.

Cruz told the dispatcher the store has had problems recently with “the homeless shooting drugs in the bathroom,” and also a robbery and disputed any racial profiling. “I mean I’m Asian,” he told the Seattle Times. “I experience the same thing. It was a misunderstanding, which sometimes do happen.”

Officers were dispatched, and even after the officers were clearly and calmly told by Ragland and the woman he was supervising that the three were together and having a supervised parental visit, he was still asked to leave.

“You listen to that 911 call. He says right in there that I’m not doing anything,” Ragland said of the 911 call. “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 says the Starbucks incident flashed through his mind when the officers approached him in Menchie’s, and not wanting to be arrested, he complied and left.

“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,’” he said. “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.”

“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 a 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.”

That’s just a Wednesday. This is America, people. And it’s important to know that even though you may see these stories somewhat sporadically (and might, for that reason, think it happens rarely), this is a common occurrence all over the country. Mainstream national media may not carry every single incident (like this one, for example, that was a big to-do in local Seattle news, but got zero play on a national screen), but that doesn’t mean it’s not a widespread problem.

Spare me the “I can’t believe this. This is not who we are.” Because it is. It’s who we’ve always been. That may be hard to swallow, but that doesn’t make it any less true. But it also doesn’t mean we can’t do better. We can. WE MUST.

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