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Plenty of blame to go around in alleged racism at Kirkland yogurt shop

Byron Ragland addresses reporters in front of a frozen-yogurt shop Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018, in Kirkland, Wash. Ragland was thrown out of the shop weeks earlier when employees reported he looked suspicious. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

An incident at a Kirkland yogurt shop, where a manager called the police on a black man, has sparked a discussion around racism from both sides of the aisle.

RELATED: Shop owner fighting racism allegations after 911 call

Was Ramon Cruz, a manager at a Menchie’s in Kirkland, acting out of concern for the safety of his employees or out of a deeply ingrained racial bias? That’s the question that’s come up after he called the police on a court-appointed special advocate, there to monitor a mother and child.

Byron Ragland’s job is to monitor children in potentially problematic situations at home, and was doing just that from a distance at Menchie’s on Nov. 7. Having not ordered anything, his presence made employees nervous.

They then called Cruz, who, after monitoring the situation from security cameras, called the police to have them ask Ragland to move along. Ragland, and the parent and child he was monitoring, were then asked by police to leave.

Ragland was identified as African-American in Cruz’s 911 call, and now, many are speculating that the incident was racially motivated. Even more remain baffled as to how this could happen in the first place.

“How, in the year 2018, are we still this clueless… around the issue of race?” asked Tom Tangney on KIRO Radio.

In the aftermath of the incident, Cruz cited multiple situations he’s seen occur under his watch, including one where a customer, without warning, started throwing chairs around in another of his businesses. In a separate incident, they were robbed, and in neither case were the perpetrators black.

Even with that being so, though, there seems to be an endemic issue in need of addressing.

“I think there are issues with the employees who acted concerned, there are issues with the manager, and there are issues with the cops,” Tangney said.

“Should the cops (have) three people move along because employees felt uncomfortable, without even having asked the individual who they were uncomfortable with why he was there, and what he was doing?” he added.

Is this the same as the Starbucks incident?

The other side of this debate would argue that context is king, especially when comparing this to a separate, similar incident in April, where two black men were arrested at a Starbucks in Philadelphia.

“It’s not like Starbucks, where people come in, sit in front of the fireplace, maybe get a coffee, [and] read the paper — this is not a Starbucks situation,” argued John Curley. “People who go into a yogurt store buy the stuff, eat the stuff, and leave. Not many people come and hang out.”

For Curley, you then have to work your way up the chain and put yourself in the shoes of each link, all the way up to the police who arrived on the scene.

“This guy is sitting here by himself, not eating anything, and he’s just on the phone,” said Curley. “(Employees) are keenly aware, so they call the owner. What do you want the owner to do? Ignore them or respond by calling the cops, which is what society has taught us to do?”

When it comes to someone coming in, sitting down, and not actually patronizing the business, Curley argued that race doesn’t enter into the equation.

“If that guy came in, and he was black, and he bought yogurt, and sat there and ate yogurt, would they have called the police? No. But he walked in and didn’t buy anything,” Curley said.

Conversely, if there’s uncertainty surrounding any potential situation, there could also be one, simple solution that doesn’t involve calling the police.

“The first thing that they could do is go over and ask him why he was there,” Tangney said. “This should be a teaching moment for them to let them check their own biases.”

Menchie’s has since issued an apology for the incident, but even in the wake of that, the greater debate will likely rage on.

RELATED: Hate crimes dramatically on the rise in Washington state

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