A San Francisco lemonade business owner is blaming racism for a call to police that saw him questioned outside his own store on suspicion of burgling it.
Gourmonade owner Vicktor Stevenson told CNN that the police officers were not rude and were doing their job but that the experience left him feeling vulnerable and disrespected.
Stevenson said he was standing outside his Mission District shop, on the phone to his security company, around 6:45 a.m. last Tuesday when two police cars pulled up.
Four officers approached him, one with his hand on his hip – as if it were on his weapon, Stevenson said.
Initially, Stevenson thought he’d set off his security alarm by accident and that police were responding, but the officers told him that they’d been called by someone who had said he was breaking into the business.
“I laughed and said, ‘That’s funny, this is actually my business’,” Stevenson said.
He said the officers asked him to remove his arm from his coat and that he complied, saying he wanted to show them “I wasn’t a threat at all.”
Asked to prove that it was his business, Stevenson said “absolutely” and opened and closed the door.
Police then asked for his ID.
“I was reluctant to give them my ID. I didn’t want to give them my ID and I just obliged after a while because I’ve seen what’s been going on every single day out here and I didn’t want to become a statistic. So I just gave them my ID and they ran it,” Stevenson said.
The San Francisco Police Department on Monday released video of officers responding to the call. Police said the caller had reported someone was removing items from a small, open door. An officer at the end of one of the videos told Stevenson that the caller had a “100% misunderstanding.”
In a statement, the department said: “While we have no say over who requests our services, we do have a say over how we respond. The men and women of SFPD are committed to providing safety with respect to all of the people of San Francisco. It is the duty of San Francisco Police to respond to calls for service, and we believe our officers responded appropriately and with courtesy to this call.”
Asked whether the officers were polite, he said: “I mean, they did their job. They weren’t rude. I’ve had run-ins with the cops before for just walking down the block, so compared to what I’ve been through, experiences with police, they were cool.”
Stevenson said his only issue was with the ID verification but that he understood that from the officers’ point of view.
“As a grown man, when four men approach you with weapons, and you don’t have anything to protect yourself, you feel vulnerable and kind of disrespected, so that’s my only hangup. Other than that, they did their job,” he said.
Three of the officers were white, Stevenson said, while the other was “black or maybe mixed.”
Stevenson posted video footage to Instagram and Facebook of the aftermath of the encounter, saying:
“People die because of this kinda misuse of police resources and racial profiling everyday. I’m just blessed to be alive to tell my story and hopefully can help spark some major changes in how these situations are handled. It’s a criminal act and should be treated as such.”
In another post, he thanked people for their support.
Stevenson told CNN that the phone call “had to be” racially motivated. “I could be wrong but I’m almost 1000% sure this was racially inspired,” he said.
“I’m just a man, starting a business so I can support my family.”
“I can respect my neighbors being neighbors and being neighborly and calling the cops if they feel that way, if they see that. But, I didn’t have a brick in my hand, I wasn’t rummaging through my business.”
He doesn’t have an issue with the police responding to the call, but he takes issue with the call itself. “It’s the caller that’s the criminal here. They should be the one being questioned.”
However, from life’s lemons come, well, lemonade.
Stevenson says that following the incident, sales have been going through the roof and that he’s very thankful for the community. “For me, the success isn’t in the sales, the success is in just being here and taking my vision and making it a real thing.”
Stevenson’s experience is the latest in a series of incidents of apparent racial profiling in the Bay Area.
Last month, a firefighter was so frustrated by residents singling out her black colleague while he carried out annual inspections in Oakland that she took to Facebook describing his mistreatment by residents.
In one incident, a resident called the fire department to confirm that they were actually performing inspections, and sent security footage of her colleague to the police department because she “suspected ‘criminal activity’ at her house,” the firefighter wrote.
Also in June a white woman was filmed calling the police on an 8-year-old African-American girl selling bottles of water without a permit.
The woman, Alison Ettel, has since apologized, and said the incident had nothing to do with race. She said she called the police department to confirm it was illegal to sell water without a permit, but did not file a report or request an officer to be dispatched.
Meantime, a white man was dubbed “Jogger Joe” after he was caught on video in Oakland throwing away a black homeless man’s belongings.
In April, a white woman in Oakland became known as “BBQ Becky” on social media after she called police on black people who were barbecuing in an area of a park where that was banned, CNN affiliate KRON reported.
CNN’s Dan Simon reported from San Francisco and Susannah Cullinane wrote and reported from Auckland. CNN’s Emily Smith contributed to this report.