It was the kind of shop that fits right into the San Francisco landscape: Gourmonade, a small, high-end lemonade shop which recently opened in San Francisco’s Mission District. But the shop’s black owner, Vicktor Stevenson, says he’s been dogged by racist acts against him and the shop even before he opened. The worst of these happened on July 12, when just days after officially opening the shop, a neighbor called the cops on him, accusing him of breaking into his own store.
Stevenson opened up about his experiences in a new AJ plus interview, which went viral this past weekend. In it, Stevenson details an incident where four cops responded to a call alleging he was breaking into his own store.
“I’m standing here at my store, trying to make sure my security system is up and running properly, and next thing I know, four cops hop out of cars on me,” Stevenson said. “Come to find out, somebody in the neighborhood called and said that I was breaking into my own business.”
“I didn’t see the other two officers behind me, but the one in front of me had his hand on his gun,” he added.
In a separate interview with KCBS, Stevenson said his survival instincts—honed through many other encounters with police—kicked in.
When an officer asked him to take his hand out of his pocket, Stevenson said he extended his arm “all the way out like an eagle, and I dropped it to exaggerate, ‘there’s no threat here.’ Nothing to worry about.”
He was also asked by police if he could prove the shop was his, which he did by showing them the keys to the shop and opening and closing the doors.
Stevenson’s lemonade shop was hit with a more explicit example of racism earlier this year. The budding entrepreneur—Gourmonade is his first business—told AJ Plus that three months ago, someone tagged the side of his store with the phrase, “monkey juice.”
Still, the encounter with the cops left Stevenson, who is the father of a young child, shaken over what could have gone wrong.
“My son is 9-months old and he knew something was wrong with daddy, and he would not let me go,” Stevenson said, choking up. “He would not let me go all night.”
That night, with their child laying in between them, Stevenson had to comfort his wife, who woke up crying and screaming from nightmares, he says.
“This isn’t anything new for me, but it’s new for me as a father and as a husband,” he said. “I don’t think my family or any other family should have to go through this for no reason.”
Calling the cops on black people for no reason isn’t a new phenomenon—but several high profile incidents this summer have brought heightened attention to all the mundane, banal activities that seem to be deemed suspicious once a black person does them (See: napping, delivering newspapers, swimming, moving into a home, swimming, using coupons, and, oh yeah, swimming.)
That this happened in San Francisco is particularly notable. Considered a liberal enclave, the city (and the surrounding Bay Area) has grappled with gentrification for years. While the city has just elected its first black female mayor, London Breed, San Francisco has also seen its black population plummet as housing prices have surged over the last several decades. One 2016 New York Times article noted that San Francisco’s black middle class had all but disappeared.
Stevenson echoed the calls of many others who want stricter punishments for people who call the cops on black people and people of color for innocuous reasons.
“People die because of this kinda misuse of police resources and racial profiling every day,” he wrote in a Facebook post (h/t Raw story). “It’s a criminal act and should be treated as such.”