The New Sit-Ins

The New Sit-Ins

As incidents of racial profiling, discrimination, and police brutality are filmed in commercial spaces, activists re-invent the lunch-counter sit-ins of the 1960s

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Story Transcript

EZE JACKSON: It’s The Real News. I’m Eze Jackson.

A recent string of arrests of black people in public spaces has brought renewed attention to the resegregation of public spaces, and prompted some to wonder if we need a new movement of sit-ins, such as the ones that desegregated schools and lunch counters half a century ago during the civil rights movement.

At a Philadelphia Starbucks in April, two black men were arrested minutes after arriving while waiting for a friend. The city of Philadelphia has since acknowledged the wrongdoing, and the two men settled with the city for $1 for themselves, and a $200000 youth fund for their community. At a Waffle House in Saraland, Alabama last month, a young black woman named Chikesia Clemons was violently arrested while asking for a corporate customer service [line].

The Waffle House filed charges against Clemons. She is facing disorderly conduct and resisting arrest charges. Last week at a Warsaw, North Carolina Waffle House, video of Anthony Wall being violently arrested on prom night surfaced. That incident is receiving public outcry. A.J. Connors, the mayor of Warsaw, North Carolina, says the arrest was justified.

With us today to discuss these and other issues is Gerald A. Griggs. Gerald is an attorney and activist with the NAACP, and down in Atlanta Georgia. Welcome to the show, Gerald.

GERALD GRIGGS: Thank you for having me.

EZE JACKSON: Thanks for coming. Could you tell us about the protests this weekend? There’s Waffle House protests in Saraland, Alabama. But you all have had, you had a protest there in Atlanta. Can you tell me about that, who is participating in it and what are the goals of the protests?

GERALD GRIGGS: That’s correct. After we saw the viral video of our sister Chikesia Clemons, we joined a coalition of activists, including the NAACP, the SCLC, Black Lives Matter, and a host of grassroots organizers, including the Nation of Islam and others, to bring awareness around this issue. And so we had a protest directly at Waffle House headquarters, which is here in Norcross, Georgia, where we issued the demand for the boycott of Waffle House. Since then we’ve had four sit-ins at local Waffle Houses around the metro area, and a lead organizer by the name of Chris [Munchen] who goes by [I M City] organized the sit-ins that just happened in Saraland, along with Tamika Mallory and a host of other activists, that actually occupied the Waffle House in Saraland, Alabama.

And we’re going to continue this movement until there’s justice in Chikesia Clemons’s case, because like you said, she was violently assaulted by police when she was merely asking for a free item, which is the actual utensil that you get for free on a takeout item at Waffle House, which escalated all of this. So we’re just raising awareness, but more importantly, holding the corporation accountable until there’s justice.

EZE JACKSON: The boycott of Waffle House seems like you’re trying to hit, hit the company in their pockets. Are you seeing a significant change in that? Are people staying away from Waffle Houses down there?

GERALD GRIGGS: I think so. I mean, every time we have a sit-in we directly affect their revenue stream to the tune of $3000-$4000 that’s turned away in four or five hour span. But more importantly, I’ve seen people that I know, as well as people around the Internet who have decided to boycott Waffle House, and we’re seeing the impact. We’ve had conversations with their corporate office where they’re saying their bottom line is being affected. And we just want people to understand that until there’s justice in Chikesia Clemons’s case, until we stop having these viral incidents of while black, we have to use our economic power, like our foreparents in the ’60s did, until there was justice.

EZE JACKSON: I’m curious about your thoughts on these protests, and some of the obstacles that, that may present themselves. Are there any, in particular obstacles in particular that you all are paying attention to?

GERALD GRIGGS: Yes, I think just merely getting the word out. A lot of people have said they hadn’t heard about it. And so we’re using social media, we’re using the tools we have to get the word out. I just think getting the word out. Once people see the video and know what’s happening, they gladly join in. And so we use the platforms, and thank you for opening your platform, to get the word out of what we are doing to combat these issues in corporate America, in these corporate entities that are not respecting the rights of brown and black people.

EZE JACKSON: Right. I want to talk a little bit about the video with Anthony Wall getting slammed to the ground in a North Carolina Waffle House. The mayor of Warsaw, North Carolina, A.J. Connors, he stated that the arrest was not racially motivated and that it was justified, which, you know, we hear this, this often. What are your thoughts on that position that the mayor has taken, and what do you think the city officials should be doing in response to an issue like this?

GERALD GRIGGS: Yeah, I think it’s unfortunate the statements the mayor has given, especially in the climate that we’re in right now. There have been multiple incidents at Waffle Houses, so it’s not like this is an isolated incident. I think that police officer overresponded to the situation. He could have deescalated the situation and not tried to chokeslam Mr. Wall, and ultimately he did chokeslam him. So I think that the, the, the mayor made an unfortunate statement, just like the police chief did up in Philadelphia. He needs to address it and address it immediately, because as an elected official your first duty is to the citizens, and not to a corporation.

EZE JACKSON: Right. You mention this, the police officer overreacting. Are there any conversations taking place right now around the mental health of these police officers? Because I feel like a lot of times in these situations police are overreacting, and the reality is they do, you know, they are working under stressful conditions, and somehow black people seem to get the repercussions of that. Have you all been having any conversations with local police about, about mental health?

GERALD GRIGGS: Yes, we have. And I think that the great thing about this is it’s already been addressed. After Ferguson, President Obama convened a panel of experts, activists, and law enforcement to issue a report. It’s the 21st Century Policing Initiative, that outlines the seven pillars that would help bridge that gap. One of those was officer safety and well-being, and mental health checks. So there are already policies that could be put in place to deal with these issues.

The problem is, a majority of the jurisdictions around the country have not implemented all [nine] pillars of President Obama’s 21st Century Policing Initiative. So we’ve had conversations here in Georgia with the chiefs of police, and also the sheriffs. But again, they’ve been slow to respond. They’ve been slow to act. And we’re seeing these reoccurring images of people being involved in police encounters that go bad, ultimately that sometimes end in a death, but all the time in some type of brutality that’s being taped. And so now we have to have a real conversation on how we implement the Obama 21st Century Policing Initiative so we can solve this problem.

EZE JACKSON: Right. I’m In Baltimore. We don’t have we don’t have a lot of Waffle Houses up here. Is this-. But when I go into the South I have enjoyed a Waffle House or two. Is this a typical way black customers are treated at Waffle House? And for people watching them might say, well, why not just go somewhere else, can you talk about the importance of, you know, making a stand in public spaces like this? I saw a video where they were actually in the Waffle House on chairs, making noise. Probably, you know, slowing up customers and stuff like that. Talk a little bit-. First I want to know, is this typical in the Waffle Houses down there?

GERALD GRIGGS: Well, it-. Waffle Houses, it’s 1400 Waffle Houses around the country. So it’s not typical for every Waffle House. You have Waffle House in urban areas, you have Waffle House in rural areas. So it’s, it depends on the community that we’re dealing with. And I think in the rise of 45, we have a disconnect between the communities. So I don’t, I hope it’s not typical of all waffle houses. But I do believe there’s a corporate climate that needs to be addressed, and it needs to be addressed by the corporate office, the headquarters, to deal with these, to have diversity training, to have sensitivity issues about different cultures that, that participate and that purchase from their establishments.

And secondly, with regard to the direct actions, people are always saying, why don’t you go somewhere else? We don’t need to go anywhere else. This is 2018. The African-American dollar, the minority dollar, should be respected just as much as the majority. We spend $1.3 trillion in this economy, and we should be able to eat wherever we want without being harassed, without being threatened with the police being called, and without being brutally assaulted. So the response is, until that corporation respects our dollars, we’re going to hold up the dollars, and we may just economically affect other dollars. Because we are in a new movement, and it’s called for new tactics that revolutionize the old tactics.

EZE JACKSON: What kind of support are you getting from elected officials in Atlanta, or in the Georgia area?

GERALD GRIGGS: Oh, in Atlanta we have a broad swell of elected officials that support this movement and have supported other movements. Now, around the state, again, Georgia is a changing state, so in some areas you don’t have as much support. But from the top down you know, I think that we have support of our congressmen. We have support of our mayor. We have support of a lot of the elected officials that are in the Georgia House. And it’s hopeful that we will be a model to the rest of the nation on how you address these issues.

You know, we just recently had the largest march in Georgia history, where Congressman John Lewis and Congressman Hank Johnson, as well as hopefully the next elected governor of the state, Stacey Abrams, were at the marches or been at the protests. So I think Atlanta has always been at the forefront of being progressive and on the forefront of civil rights issues, and we’re trying to hope that we can join with us our sisters and brothers around the South, but more importantly around the nation, on how we push back and we achieve social justice and we achieve Dr. King’s dream of equity. Not just equality, but actual equity, so that we can stop this conversation and move towards a united America.

EZE JACKSON: Well, thanks for joining us, talking about this, Gerald. Definitely hope, hope you all are successful with this. We are watching, and the world is watching.

GERALD GRIGGS: Well, thank you for opening up your platform. And let people know that you can always push back. You can speak truth to power, and you can hold the powerful accountable. And that’s what this movement is about. We will hold Waffle House accountable, and you will see change.

EZE JACKSON: That was attorney Gerald Griggs. Griggs is the vice president of the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP, organizing rallies in the Atlanta area. I’m Eze Jackson. This is The Real News.