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'Awful House' protests, demands for justice pushing forward

By by Eric Ture Muhammad -Contributing Writer- | Last updated: May 30, 2018 - 9:53:07 AM

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Group photo of Chikesia, father, Benjamin Crump and family.

SARALAND, Ala.—Anything but acceptable was the rallying cry for recent protests and an ongoing campaign targeting the Waffle House franchise after the controversial police manhandling of a young Black woman was caught on videotape.

Protestors and activists from outside of Alabama joined Chikesia Clemons, her family, her lawyer, a young man choked by a police officer at a Waffle House restaurant in North Carolina, and area residents for a rally and protest at the restaurant where 25-year-old Ms. Clemons was tossed around by police and nearly had her clothes ripped off. The rally May 20 started at the Saraland City Hall and ended at the notorious place many have dubbed “Awful House.” Ms. Clemons still faces charges of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

The problems started during an April dispute with Waffle House staff and an argument, which included the young woman demanding to speak with a supervisor or receive a corporate telephone number. Police were called and their rough interaction with the small-framed young woman sparked anger and outrage across the country.

The clamor has morphed into demands for a national boycott of the restaurant chain, dropping of charges against Ms. Clemons and the firing of Saraland Police Department officers involved in the arrest. None of the demands have been met, with police officials defending the officers and Waffle House standing by employees who called the cops.

“It is unacceptable how they assaulted Chikesia Clemons, how they battered Ms. Clemons,” said her attorney Benjamin Crump, recounting images from the arrest video. “How they threw her on the ground and threatened to break her arm. How they disrobed Chikesia Clemons, how they violated her civil and human rights; it’s unacceptable. And we will not as a people stand for it,” he told The Final Call.

“And to the Waffle House, if they don’t respect our Black women they should not expect our Black dollars,” he added. 

Clashes involving Waffle House, other eateries and Blacks seem to be more prevalent and have gone viral on social media. 

Anthony Wall, 22, traveled from Warsaw, N.C., with his attorney Allen Rogers to lend their voices to the Clemons case. Mr. Wall, a Black man, on May 5 was at a Warsaw Waffle House after taking his 16-year-old sister to prom.

According to published reports, an argument with a Waffle House employee escalated with a call to police. After the officer arrived, video shows him grabbing, choking and then slamming Mr. Wall to the ground.

Ms. Clemons and supporters proceed with protest route while rerouted.

Police stop the protesters path. Photo: Jay Buckner/Xcintric Media Group

“We came here to support Chikesia Clemons. We came here because what she experienced is very similar to what we saw in North Carolina,” said Atty. Rogers. “We saw a service staff that was rude and threatening, and when he (Mr. Wall) spoke out against it, they called a bully cop, who comes in weighing about 300 pounds and grabs Anthony by the throat ... slams his head against the wall; slams him to the floor. Then after that what you don’t see in the video, they had five cars. They chose to put him in the car with a canine.

“Again, we are here because the Waffle House needs to respect our dollars. We need to support Chikesia and all others who have been subjected to this kind of abuse,” the attorney said.

Activist Tamika Mallory of the Womens March and the New York Justice League was among leaders of the demonstration and the campaign against Waffle House. “There’s a phenomenon, if you will, of people around this country calling the police on Black folks who are unarmed and who are really just going about normal life. With that being said, it is not far-fetched that the police would show up to do what they often do, which is to be the aggressors,” she said, according to media reports.

Alabama State Representative Napoleon Bracey echoed the call for justice in an interview with The Final Call. “We are here today for justice for Ms. Clemons. We are asking for all charges to be dropped. We feel that it was an excessive use of force and an overreach on behalf of the police department,” he said.

After the rally, activists conducted a sit-in at the Saraland Waffle House.

A few sparsely attended protests at area Waffle Houses occurred around Mobile County, Ala., over days leading up to the main rally. Saraland is the third largest city within Mobile County and is nearly all Whites.

While some media reports suggested the demonstrators were welcome in the area, clashes with police officers occurred and some felt they were unwelcome. There was also a single incident between some protest participants.

As Dr. Henry Roberts, pastor of Word of Life Community Church, led marchers in prayer from the stage prior to a planned march, a skirmish broke out behind the stage between what appeared to be members of two organizations supporting Ms. Clemons. It was quickly quashed.

Once lined up, organizers attempted to march in the opposite direction of a route approved by Saraland police. The approved route would have taken marchers down Highway Route 43 and led to a closed, because it was Sunday, State Capitol building. Ms. Clemons and others wanted to go to the Saraland Waffle House to raise awareness about her case. Demonstrators, who did not have a protest permit, were met with police aggression.

Officers behind the wheels of several Suburban SUVs pushed quickly through the crowd of about 100 people. Marchers were closed off and Ms. Clemons and others were forced to stand in a ditch on the side of the road.

Rally supporters taking different path.

No injuries were reported.

“Your officers are so disrespectful,” said Mobile County resident Tracey Walker to Lieutenant E. Taylor of the Saraland Police Department. He appeared to be the only Black officer on duty. “They were driving their vehicles as though we were not pedestrians in the roadway,” she stated. Her concerns voiced to the officer went unaddressed.

Ms. Walker told The Final Call, “I’ve just kind of been interested since the whole incident started. And I’m just excited to see (demands for) justice for our young Black women. Hopefully this will send the message that we are not going to tolerate injustice. We are not going to continue to tolerate being disrespected by the people that are suppose to protect us.  Specifically,” she added, “the police department.”

“I think the way that the police handled her in that restaurant was totally unorthodox, and we need some justice behind it,” said Dr. Roberts. “We have to keep protesting, keep the pressure down and make sure we stay abreast. And we keep the pressure on the people. More radio coverage, word of mouth and social media outreach will be highly effective in spreading the word on this case and subsequent developments,” he told The Final Call.