While watching the video of 25-year-old Chikesia Clemons at a Waffle House in Saraland, Alabama, I realized Chikesia could have easily been me, my friends, or my cousins.
The clip, which circulated on social media yesterday, shows Chikesia sitting in a chair clutching her purse, while three white male police officers surround her, yelling and leaning over her before she’s wrestled to the ground with her breasts exposed. Throughout the incident, she repeatedly asks what she did wrong. “You’re not going to grab on me like that, no,” Chikesia says to one officer. “What are you doing?” Chikesia asks another. “I’ll break your arm, that’s what I’m about to do,” one responds. The other patrons of the Waffle House, mostly white, continue to quietly eat their food.
According to Chikesia’s mother, who spoke with Alabama Local, her daughter and her friend Canita Adams — who filmed the incident — had requested plastic flatware for their to-go meals. They were reportedly told it would cost them an additional 50 cents, and requested the number for their corporate offices to complain. Then, the police were called.
Just like Chikesia and Canita were trying to, I’ve enjoyed many a late night at the Waffle House near my childhood home, just a few miles from Ferguson, MO. Heading to the Waffle House after a long night is practically a tradition in the South and Midwest. Black women I know would drive miles to taste the famous diner’s breakfast meals after a long night of dancing. Waffle House is a gathering place for many people of color, who long for a taste of southern home cooking in the hustle and bustle of life.
But between Chikesia and the killing of four young people of color at another Waffle House in Nashville by a white domestic terrorist named Travis Reinking on the very same day, Waffle House no longer seems to be a place where black bodies will be safe or our dollar will be respected. The restaurant chain owes a great deal of its popularity to black patrons — we have woven Waffle House into our culture, making the famous golden sign more than just a place for a meal. But no more: I’ll cook my own midnight eggs from now on.
Blackness in America is routinely degraded in one of three ways: it is weaponized and viewed as a threat, it is caricatured and seen as an obstacle, or it is infantilized and tossed around. Last week, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson were arrested for waiting in a Philadelphia Starbucks. Yesterday, just hours after Chikesia’s story exploded on social media, a golf club called the police on four experienced black women golfers because two white men complained that they were golfing too slowly. The mere presence of blackness is treated as criminal. And what are we guilty of? Making whiteness uncomfortable. And this discomfort can mean our death. Dontre Hamilton, Saheed Vassell, and 12-year-old Tamir Rice are all dead because someone called the police on a “suspicious” black person. And despite the “angry black woman” accusations that have come about Chikesia’s behavior at the Waffle House, cursing in a restaurant does not deserve a beating, any more than carrying a toy gun bears a death sentence.
Chikesia may be alive, but she has yet to see justice. The public outcry after last week’s Starbucks incident was swift and loud, resulting in national news stories, boycotts of the ubiquitous chain, and an announcement from Starbucks that it will shutter all of its national storefronts on May 29 for racial bias training. But so far, the public response on Chikesia’s behalf has been far more quiet. There’s been less media coverage, and Waffle House has released just a single statement essentially telling us all to “wait and see,” as though the video didn’t show plenty. Will America allow the suffering of black women to go unchecked, when we are leading the fight for so many others? Want to thank black women for defeating Roy Moore? For voting against Donald Trump? Protect us. Support us. Demand justice for Chikesia.