Another day, another coffee shop calling the police on a black person for something ridiculous.
The morning of Nov. 7 was just like any other for Tirza Wilbon White. She walked into her local Fairfax, Va., Dunkin’ Donuts, a place she visits so regularly, employees know her by sight. She set up her laptop to get ready to dig into some emails, bothering precisely no one.
Then things went left.
According to White, she was approached by Christina Cabral, an employee she’d never seen in her two years of visiting that Dunkin’ Donuts location. Cabral told White she couldn’t use the store’s wifi without making a purchase. White, flabbergasted, asked if it was a new store policy. Cabral allegedly explained the store policy was not new but was being enforced now that she was there, in a quality control capacity.
But White, a policy scholar and frequent Dunkin’ Donuts customer, sensed something was off. She pushed back against Cabral’s claim, asking if the policy was posted somewhere visible to customers. The two continued going back and forth, after which point White began to record the interaction.
Then things really went left.
At that point, White felt positive she was being discriminated against. Cabral eventually and reluctantly identified herself as the owner of the franchise and, when pressed, said that she should have and would order signs explaining the “policy.” Cabral also tried to use the excuse that fights had broken out there.
“They hang out here for eight hours and they get into fights,” she told White. “You can look it up; it was on Prince William County a year ago.”
OK, girl. Stay vigilant catching those hooligans from a year ago (it’s unclear to which incident Cabral was referring). Because when I think about people starting fights in Dunkin’ Donuts, it’s certainly not 46-year-old black women working on laptops. Maybe she thought White was going to start a fight and record it on her computer for WorldStar.
“We’re just trying to make our customers feel safe,” Cabral went on to explain.
Ah, so it’s a “safety” issue. Are your ears ringing like mine are?
White calmly pointed out the optics of the situation. She and another person of color had been asked to make a purchase or leave, she explained, making White feel discriminated against. That’s when Cabral became incensed.
“Oh, please,” Cabral responded. “Don’t get into the racial profiling. It’s my family. I find that offensive.” So apparently Cabral has family members of color or something. My best friend/husband/fourth cousin thrice-removed is black, yada yada yada. We’ve gone straight to the classics.
But here’s where it became clear Cabral was going full white woman: She threatened to call the police.
“Now you wanna call the police because you don’t like what I’m saying?” White asked, still preternaturally calm.
“You’re offending me,” Cabral responded, as if that explained the decision, then said she treats everyone the same—which no clueless white woman has ever said before.
“You’re the one who brought up racial profiling,” Cabral then pointed out, which means it wasn’t there before White mentioned it, I guess. It’s been a great week for “You’re the real racist” moments.
Cabral continued, “You can take your recording, and you can do what you want with it, because at the end of the day, you’re trying to blackmail me.”
Girl. For free wifi? She’s trying to blackmail you for free wifi? At least accuse her of trying to get a free Boston Crème donut or some Munchkins. If you’re going to say some wild shit about blackmail, give us real stakes, sis!
Keep in mind: This all happened at about 9 a.m. Here’s an abbreviated list of things I don’t like doing that early in the morning:
- Reading things
- Talking to people
- Being pleasant
- Being unpleasant
- Generally existing
And none of these things is nearly as stressful as dealing with the police.
Yet that’s exactly what Tirza Wilbon White had to do, because our sis Christina did just what she said and dialed 911, joining the infamous gaggle of white women who call the police when they are mildly inconvenienced. You’d think someone for whom “It’s my family” would know better.
Between this and the issues with Starbucks, they are truly out here trying to decaffeinate the blacks.
I want to provide here, for those still confused, a list of more reasonable alternatives to calling the police, because here is the thing: just about every real resource I find online is for people doing something that is technically illegal, like playing music too loud or setting off fireworks. Calmly asking questions of a store owner is not illegal, technically or otherwise. And while Cabral technically had every right to ask White to leave, which very well may have happened had Cabral just shared the business card she offered and went about her business, she decided to be a brat because she got “offended.”
De-escalation techniques can help, but that’s only if you’re trying to de-escalate a situation. So from me to you, for those still struggling with the concept, here is a list of alternatives to calling the police if you are dealing with someone who is in no way being aggressive toward you:
- Get out of your feelings.
- Put your ego aside.
- Step out of your feelings.
- Consider that cops are not your personal bouncers.
- Hop out of your feelings.
- Keep an open mind. If a person of color is offended, it is possible you actually did something offensive, whether intentionally or not (I know, crazy). If you strongly feel you did not, acknowledge it and try to avoid being defensive. I know it’s hard because you are probably in your feelings.
- If you’re going to apologize, be sincere. Make eye contact.
- Be firm, but don’t forget every single thing you’ve learned about good customer service because you’re in your feelings.
- If you want the person to leave—and this is important—actually ask them to leave before threatening to call the police.
- Your feelings are the church, and here is the steeple. Open the door, and get the fuck out of the church.
To drive the point home:
STOP CALLING THE POLICE ON BLACK PEOPLE JUST BECAUSE.
OK, old “I just called to say I love you” head asses?
When the police arrived, White, still recording, explained the situation, at which point they explained they had been called in the past to this Dunkin’ Donuts for fights. It’s possible they were talking about this “mob assault” from June 2017, during which a couple was assaulted about 10 at night. Maybe they’d experienced a morning mob assault as well? Or it could have been this related incident that same month, in which someone came in and smashed someone’s laptop with a baseball bat. Maybe Cabral thought White was re-staging that with her own laptop and a hired actor. Or maybe this situation, which is still markedly different in that it didn’t even happen inside the store. Who knows?
After an unsatisfying conversation with the police, White got in her car and pulled off.
“I just pulled across the street and cried,” she explained over the phone to The Root on Monday. “Even now I’m so angry because of all of it and how it could have ended.” It shouldn’t be understated how much of a toll these police interactions take. White struggled with her decision to share but found it necessary to do just that:
It’s happening to my children, it’s happening to my brother, it’s happening to my friends, my sisters. It’s happening at an alarming pace where a white person’s response [is] “I have power and you won’t do what I want you to do … and you are a guest ... and dare you not do what I think you should do, I’m calling the police.” ... I wanted to document, if for nobody else for my children, who I wanted to teach: There are no identity politics that can protect you from this. Your mom is a former college professor, but on this day, I was a black chick with no makeup on and a twistout. … Based on what I looked like, this is what happened to me.
“I feel failed at the store level by the manager. I feel failed at by the police.” In the video the police can be seen telling White she could contact Dunkin’ corporate. Bet.
White told The Root her conversation with corporate was just as unsatisfying. She says she tried to confirm details about store policy but was given vague information and told that if the police were called, it’s a police matter—so White found herself in a game of hot potato over who was most culpable for what happened.
Since then, Dunkin’ Donuts has tried to contact White and apologize for the situation. They emailed a statement to The Root on Monday:
We are aware of the video and the situation that occurred at the Dunkin’ restaurant located in Fairfax, VA. The franchisee who owns and operates this location informs us that their policy requires guests in their restaurant to make a purchase to stay in the dining room and enjoy the free Wi-Fi, and this was not clearly communicated to the guest. The lead franchise owner is attempting to contact the guest to apologize for the negative experience. Dunkin’ and our franchisees share a goal of creating a welcoming and hospitable restaurant environment and treating everyone with dignity and respect.
Huh? When I think of a negative experience, I think of cold food, weak coffee, stale donuts—not having the police called on me for respectfully questioning a clearly dubious policy. Maybe that’s just me. Dunkin’ did not confirm whether any corrective action would be taken against Cabral.
For White’s part, she’s had just about enough of Dunkin’ and finds their followup with her “insufficient.” It’s not lost on her that the followup was likely about the optics. Frankly, I can’t blame her. If it’s not an issue to you when you think it won’t go public, it’s probably not an issue to you period.
Do better, Dunkin’.