First and foremost, I want to give you as brief a run-down of last week’s events as possible so that I can circle back to the article’s original intention as illuminated in the title in an attempt to go beyond what has already been reported and apply it to what we can learn and how we can create change moving forward from either side of Oakland’s culture clash surrounding the steam-rolling effects of gentrification.
The incident, which left one Black male customer unconscious in a pool of blood, occurred Thursday night, and was reported on social media by Whole Foods patron Zoe Marks, a University of Edinburgh lecturer who took graphic photos of the assault and posted them to her Facebook:
“In Oakland less than four hours and I just saw a young man violently assaulted by an armed security guard at Whole Foods – slammed repeatedly against concrete pillars, put in a chokehold, restrained, and suffocated until he was thrown face down on the pavement unconscious. The guard locked him out of the store despite the fact he was immobile. Not a single employee called the paramedics.
He was trying to buy groceries with his EBT card and ended up in a stretcher. We spent an hour giving my written statement to the police, who were professional and polite. Does anyone know with whom and how we can share this story most justly and effectively? I’m sorry for more graphic images of violence against black citizens, but I was here and spoke to the victim (to keep him conscious), perpetrator, several bystanders, and cops. Armed private guards cannot be tolerated in our grocery stores and communities when this is what they do to paying customers. Whole Foods needs to be held accountable – security is NOT selective, it is collective.”
A witness said on social media that the customer had been buying groceries with an EBT card, used to distribute food stamp benefits, when the violence occurred. It still seems unclear as to whether there was a verbal argument that then occurred or any actual physical contact that occurred.
I do find it important to note that mainstream media is using terms such as “allegedly” when referring to eye-witness accounts, which I refuse to do, just as I will not be calling this man anything other than a “customer” or a “victim,” which is what he was at the time of the assault. I also choose to use the term “assault” when explaining the beating the customer endured at the hands of the security guards. Because I believe in the power of language and words utilized to describe news stories, I wanted to be transparent with our readers.
According to eye-witness resorts, the guard slammed the victim against concrete pillars before choking and restraining him and throwing him face down on the pavement. Graphic photos were posted online showing the victim bleeding and unconscious on the ground (but we are choosing not to share them out of respect for the customer).
ABC News recently reported the incident with the update of recent #BlackLivesMatter protestors boycotting the Oakland Whole Foods this past Sunday providing more details:
The security guard from the incident has since been banned from working at any Whole Foods in the future. Whole Foods also claim to be working with all their security contractors to reiterate the company’s code of conduct, according to a statement issued Saturday afternoon by Krauss. “As a result of the violent behavior of the security guard at Whole Foods Market Oakland, we are replacing this security firm in the store,” she said.
The new firm has been identified as A.G.S. Private Security in Concord. “Much of what’s been reported about this incident has alleged that the use of an EBT card had a role in the altercation,” Krauss added. “We want to clarify that EBT cards are readily accepted forms of payment at all Whole Foods Market stores.”
WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH GENTRIFICATION OR OAKLAND’S CULTURE CLASH?
You need only to look at the bolded sentence above to begin getting a sense of who may or may not feel welcomed at an upscale store such as Whole Foods – From what one can glean, it is not the long-time residents of Oakland whose neighborhoods have been rent hijacked by new people and corporations (a.k.a gentrification). I’m not going to pretend that I myself am not one of those new people either, or that I’ve never shopped in Whole Foods, because both would be untrue. What is also true, however, is that I leverage the privilege I do afford for the community of Oakland that has proudly existed for so long, rich in history and diversity. It’s also true that as a result of recent events at Whole Foods I’ve chosen to leverage my voice on this publication to speak about this particular injustice, while also boycotting Whole Foods until more answers are given, or perhaps forever. I’m not saying this for any other reason than to illuminate relatively simple ways in which our readers who are also gentrifiers can be in service of the community of Oakland.
The one missing link in this story, as far as I’m concerned, is the discussion of who was actual the cashier at the register. While this entire situation could be broken down by systems of oppression, it could also be better Psychologically understood if we could more fully understand the breakdown of the incident. From personal experience I know it can be a very difficult feeling to shop somewhere like Whole Foods and checkout using an EBT card – one can feel judgment if judgement is being made. No matter what intricately occurred on any micro or macro scale, there is never any justification for beating another life to any point let alone unconsciousness. Replacing security companies does not feel like a sufficient remedy to me, but some serious community outreach and conversation feels like it could be an important first step.‘