Who would have guessed a Waffle House in Saraland would become the latest hot point in this nation’s epic struggle to separate legitimate outrage over racism from the con job of unjustified indignation?
The arrest of Chikesia Clemons in the wee hours of Sunday morning following what, at the very least, appears to have been some honest-to-God hell raising by the 25-year-old patron, has immediately launched comparisons to the recent arrest of two black men in a Philadelphia Starbucks and brought calls for a nationwide boycott of Waffle House.
But should it?
All the elements are there, right? A black woman being arrested in a rather shocking video and hauled out of the establishment by lily-white cops. And for some extra chili on top, it happened in Alabama. The comparisons to what happened in Philly were too hard to resist.
Here’s the lede paragraph from a Washington Post story on the incident:
“White police officers in Alabama wrestled a black woman to the ground in a Waffle House early Sunday, exposing her breasts during the struggle and prompting comparisons to the arrest of two black men at a Philadelphia Starbucks earlier this month.”
If the Post needed to drop any more buzzwords or hints about which way the story was going, after the third paragraph online, there’s a link to another story reading, “Starbucks, L.A. Fitness and the long, racist history of America’s loitering laws.” Just in case you were still confused after “white police officers in Alabama.”
People nationwide are outraged by the video of Clemons rolling around on the floor, surrounded by white officers, her naked breasts popping out of her tube top while she struggles to keep from being handcuffed. Clemons’ mother has called for “justice” and the internet is bristling with anger and cries for a boycott. And invariably this incident is compared to what happened in Philly.
And really, that’s the biggest outrage.
What happened at the Philly Starbucks has zero in common with what happened at the Saraland Waffle House as far as I can see, other than the shared ethnic background of the people arrested. And the behavior leading up to the different arrests differs wildly.
In Philadelphia, two men were simply waiting for a third colleague to show up and ended up having police called on them because they hadn’t yet ordered anything. It seems pretty obvious these guys were treated differently than most other Starbucks customers would have been. I’ve sat in Starbucks lots of times waiting for someone to show up and was never hassled about not ordering or using the restroom. In all fairness, I’m sure millions of darker-skinned people have done the same as well and not had the cops called.
Still, in the Starbucks situation it’s understandable why racism would pop to the top of the list of reasons why someone called the cops on two well-behaved young men sitting at a table talking, not to mention the police actually going so far as arresting them. While no one has admitted it happened because they’re black, the outrage is understandable.
But in Saraland???? It’s just a whole different cup of coffee.
Dealing with drunk and disorderly people at 2 in the morning is, I’m sure, a rather common occurrence for Waffle House employees. My own experiences dining there after hours has shown me those WH workers will be patient — to a point.
The lead-up to Clemons’ arrest was not her quietly enjoying a waffle covered with Bert’s chili, or even a disagreement with the waitress as to whether her hash browns were supposed to be smothered and chunked or just scattered and smothered. Multiple diners and workers have said Clemons and her friends brought alcohol into the Waffle House, got into an argument with an employee about having to pay the unbelievable sum of 50 cents for plastic silverware and were eventually told to leave.
Video shows Clemons going back and yelling at employees, and they claim she made physical threats and was profane. One witness even says Clemons talked about shooting up the place, although no one else mentioned that.
When the cops arrived, Clemons argued with them and refused to get out of her seat. Even after they ended up on the floor wrestling around, she continued struggling to keep officers from handcuffing her.
The one point I will concede to those who think this was an outrageous violation of Clemons’ right to act like a drunken maniac in a private business, is that Saraland Police officers probably could have tried talking with her before putting their hands on someone who appeared to be acting irrationally. But I will also say that when you make a decision, intoxicated or not, to fight with the police, the outcome will be poor. And yes, watching police officers wrestle around with a subject always looks violent — because it is.
The Washington Post story included a completely out-of-left-field quote from Chance the Rapper that at least highlights just how willing some people are to try to elevate this to a civil rights matter.
“Protect our women. This is wrong, this is unjust and this happens to alot [sic] of women when there are NO cameras around. Stand with our women. Defend their voice, and their right to ask why they’re being handled, being removed, being CHOKED. Be infuriated. Be willing to fight,” he wrote on Twitter.
Be infuriated? Really? I wonder when in Mr. Chance’s mind it is OK for white police officers to arrest a black man or woman? Is it ever OK to tell a black man or woman to leave your business because he/she is drunk and screaming at the staff? Or is it just inherently racist to arrest someone who happens to be black, no matter what he/she is doing at the time?
In my misspent youth I may have been asked to leave a Waffle House once or twice. (I’m sure it was my friends’ fault.) We left because we didn’t want to get arrested. My rights weren’t violated. I’m sure we were violating the rights of other patrons and employees to serve and consume high-calorie food after midnight in peace.
Ms. Clemons made a number of decisions last Sunday morning that put her in a bad position and landed her in jail. Blaming racism for what happened to her is ridiculous. She is not a civil rights hero. She’s just someone who probably had too much to drink, started raising hell in a Waffle House and then refused to follow police orders.
If you want to be infuriated, be infuriated this drunken brawl is being mentioned in the same breath as what happened at Starbucks. Save the outrage for legitimate wrongs.