In August of 2020 as the world cried out for justice for George Floyd’s murder at the hands of police, the quiet town of Tiburon, California was mismanaging its own officer encounters with the public. Married couple Yema Khalif and Hawi Awash were approached by an officer late one night as they restocked their Main St. sportswear store. Yema, the menswear boutique that bears the same name as one its owners, was the town’s only Black owned business, which was apparently all that was needed to draw attention from racist cops. Officer Isaac Madfes came into the store after closing around 1am on the night of August 21st. Madfes proceeded to ask what they were doing in the shop so late, interrogating the owners as they remained calm. The full incident was captured on Madfes’ body cam.
“Is there a problem?” Khalif said.
“I don’t want to argue,” the officer said. “I just want you to tell me why you’re here.”
Khalif asked to speak to a supervising officer, and when Sgt. Michael Blasi arrived on the scene, he asked Khalif to stick his key in the lock to prove his ownership of the building. Just as he was about to give in to the sergeant’s demand, a white male neighbor interjected by shouting, “That’s his store!” from his balcony. The officers left shortly thereafter.
The story wasn’t over though as Khalif initially threatened a $2M lawsuit in federal court for what he and his partner endured. The couple later decided however, to settle the dispute in a different matter. The point of difference turned out to be a set of reforms achieved with the assistance of the business owners and town officials. This past Tuesday, the reforms were announced by the couple in front of their clothing store.
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“For this to happen was very unfortunate and still is unfortunate,” Khalif said during a news conference in front of Yema. “We hope (the Tiburon agreement) is going to be something that other cities, other counties can actually copy.”
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the reforms include the expectation for officers to begin “carrying business cards with information about how to raise concerns over interactions.” Officers will also undergo bias training every two years as opposed to every five.
“Aug. 21, 2020, was extremely traumatic,” Awash said Tuesday. “I’m happy that Tiburon has taken accountability and has made real, substantial policy changes.”
While Sgt. Blasi resigned along with the Police Chief, Michael Cronin, Madfes retained his officer badge in Tiburon. Jon Welner, the city’s mayor, says that despite the tainting incident, he’s happy to see it resolved outside of court.
“The changes proposed by Yema and Hawi are very positive, and will help make the Town of Tiburon a leader in the areas of diversity, inclusion, and transparency,” he said in a news release.
In addition to the reforms, the couple were also awarded $150,000, a portion of which they say will fund a scholarship program already in place.