It’s a vulnerable, powerless pitch you can’t ignore.
You know that soul-piercing sound infants make when they cry? No matter the reason for their tears, the message is clear: pure helplessness. Adults hit that note of despair only when the pain is too much to bear.
Asia Hardy cries an aching kind of wail that wraps around your heart for seven minutes of a nine-minute video.
She and her friend Alexis Brison were shopping at Independence Center. They wanted to finish their girls day with dinner at Applebee’s. Instead, an Independence cop showed up to their table. A waitress accused them of dining-and-dashing the night before. Because it makes total sense that someone would race out of a restaurant and not pay the bill only to return the next day.
Alexis, like so many of us, knows sometimes video footage is your only protector. And even then, it doesn’t guarantee justice. We all saw Eric Garner’s life choked from his body. We saw Tamir Rice shot to death on sight. Their killers are free.
She starts recording the incident with her phone, insisting they had not been there the night before. The cop scoffs and tells her to make sure she gets his good side on her video.
Asia is in disbelief and shock. She is not yelling. The officer keeps telling them to relax. He says the restaurant is going to make a decision. As if this waitress gets to dictate their future simply because in the incident the night before, one woman was skinny and one wore makeup. Oh, I forgot: We all look alike.
“I’m a college student. I live on campus. I have not been here, like, I’ve been on duty at Rockhurst University,” Asia says. At this point, she is melting down. And this officer laughs at her pain. He asks Alexis, “Is she always this emotional?”
Eventually, the cop tells them the restaurant just wants them to pay for their meal and never come back. The ladies agree. But Asia is undone. Her tears are in cruise control. The indignity has overwhelmed her.
“This is racially profiling,” Alexis says, still recording. “We deal with this all of the time. Black people in America gotta deal with this all the time.”
Alexis tries to console her friend. But being treated like a criminal when you’re innocent is an inconsolable moment. Knowing you can do the right thing but your skin will be used as a weapon against you is a hard reality to accept.
Asia’s sobs break into screams and hyperventilation.
The cop can be heard saying, “Wow.” Another person can be heard laughing. What a privilege it must be to not fear for your safety or freedom when wrongly accused.
Hell, in Kansas City, a white man fired a rifle at five officers last week and lived to be arrested. In St. Louis, a pregnant black woman called the police for help when her car was stolen and a white cop showed up to sodomize her in her home. This was in 2015. It’s taken this long and two prosecutors to finally charge him this week.
We live in a country where our attorney general feels comfortable celebrating the “Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement.”
A Justice Department spokesperson tried to dismiss Jeff Sessions’ statement to the National Sheriffs Association this week as legal and academic speak, pointing to the heritage between England and America. Yes, but no. Sessions has a history of racist attitudes so deep Coretta Scott King wrote a letter to block his 1986 federal judge nomination, saying it would damage Martin Luther King Jr.’s work. And in America, an early origin of policing was slave patrols.
When you think about the state of the world, Asia wasn’t overly emotional. The last time I got pulled over, my friend Mal called me to stay on speakerphone and ensure my safety. The fear, like racism, is real.
But not to everybody. A reader named Ken emailed me, insisting I write about how these young women were wrong to make this “a racial thing.” He claimed the women were using a “go-to excuse” at their convenience.
Applebee’s initially denied racism, but after an internal investigation it fired three employees and temporarily closed its Independence Center restaurant. The company apologized. The police have yet to make a statement or answer repeated inquiries. Where is the department’s apology? Will the officer be reprimanded? What will be done about this culture of insensitivity?
I’ve never been accused of running out on the bill. But I know what it’s like to be the “black table” in a fine dining restaurant. I know what it feels like to be stared at for the same laughing and good times other diners are having. I’ve had friends host happy hours only to be ignored by the wait staff. We once had a white man say he wished he could take our picture. Because feeling like a zoo exhibit at a five-star restaurant is always fun.
For these reasons, I find myself at Peachtree Cafeteria once a week. I know my soul food won’t come with a side of racial profiling.
As much as I love my favorite restaurants in town and most of them treat me right, I find solace at Peachtree at 12th and Brooklyn.
Terrence Ramsey, the restaurant’s general manager, says he hears that a lot from customers. Diners find the black-owned restaurant to be a safe zone. When he watched the Applebee’s video, Asia’s cries dug into him.
“It’s like we live in two different Americas,” he says. “We want to be treated with the same dignity and respect as any other human, but it doesn’t always happen that way. I know how she feels. When you are profiled and you are innocent, it’s a different level of demeaning, and it’s scary.”
For us, these situations are too often a matter of life and death. So nah, Ken. You asked the wrong one to write on your behalf.
I cry with Asia. I speak truth to power with Alexis. Black lives matter.
Jeneé Osterheldt is a Kansas City Star culture columnist, @jeneeinkc