Taking a Stand

A friend of mine recently shared a story about two African-American women who were verbally assaulted in a Seattle Starbucks. That alone would be bad enough, but as the story concluded, we learn that only one other patron showed the pair any support or sympathy afterwards. The story struck a cord with me, so it feels appropriate to share a similar story from my own experiences.

About a year ago, I was drinking coffee at one of my favorite shops – the scandalously named “Naked Lounge” – before work. My schedule that day started at 9 a.m. rather than 8, so I was enjoying the extra morning hour to myself, casually sipping coffee and reading a few of my usual blogs. There were a few other patrons inside, but it was mostly empty, with the associated quiet occasionally interrupted by the whir of a coffee grinder.

“Aw, dammit!” a cry suddenly rose from outside, and a few moments later an angry 30-something year old man stormed inside. His hands were covered in black grime, looking much like mine do every time I’ve had to fix my bicycle chain. He looked around and walked over to the bathroom door, but found it locked.

“Can I have the key?” he called over to the baristas.

“I’m sorry, but the bathroom is for customers only,” she replied.

“C’mon, I just need to wash my hands. There was a bunch of grease or something on the tree outside.”

“I’m sorry, but that’s out policy. There’s a Starbucks down the street that has a bathroom.”

This, apparently, was the last thing this guy wanted to her. “Fuck you! I just want to get this black shit off my hands!” He then shoved his hand in her face, as if the prove he isn’t lying.

He began to storm out, but stopped when he noticed the table full of napkins. The guy then grabbed a fistful and started wiping the grime off his hands, angrily throwing the dirty napkins at his feet.

“Sir,” the barista called out, stepping from behind the counter, “I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

“Oh fuck you, bitch!” he spat back.

“If you don’t leave, I’m going to call the police.”

“Fuck you! All I wanted was to wash my hands.” The man then turned and started to approach her.

It’s at this point that the few patrons inside, myself included, rose from our seats and made ourselves known. The man stopped in his tracks and looked around the room at us. “She asked you to leave,” one person said. I don’t recall if I said anything, but I stood there, staring at him. My stare said enough. “I see you,” it said. “Your behavior will no longer be tolerated, now leave!”
And he did finally leave. I sat back down, let out a sigh, and stopped suppressing my body’s desire to shake in pure terror. Yes, I was terrified. I was scared for myself and the barista and the other patrons in the room. The whole situation could have easily escalated towards violence. Thankfully, it never did.

Sometimes, the simple act of standing up can make all the difference.