Dunkin' Donuts owner calls police on woman who tries to use store's free Wi-Fi

Elise Solé

A Dunkin’ Donuts owner called the police on a customer after arguing over the company’s free Wi-Fi policy.

On Facebook, Tirza Wilbon White posted the conversation she recorded with franchise owner Christina Cabral at a Dunkin’ Donuts in Fairfax, Va., on Nov. 7, minutes after arriving at the store. White had frequented the store for the past two years, purchasing coffee and working on her laptop while using the company’s free Wi-Fi service.

“I had just sat down when a woman I had never seen before walked up and asked, ‘Are you going to buy coffee?'” White, 46, a former assistant professor at the University of Maryland and mother of two, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “I told her I planned on buying coffee after I got settled, but not if it were mandated.”

According to White, the woman, who identified herself as a “quality control” official, gestured toward another black customer, saying that he had purchased food before using Wi-Fi. White responded by asking Cabral if a nearby white customer was held to the same standard, and Cabral ordered that she purchase coffee or leave.

Related: ‘Peppermint Patty’: White woman calls 911 on black woman for exiting parking lot wrong

When Cabral walked away, an employee informed White that she was, in fact, the owner. So White, sensing that discrimination was involved, approached Cabral to clarify the policy.

In one of three separate videos White posted to Facebook, Cabral says, “I get to make my own rules. … I need to ensure safety to my customers.” She also cited previous customers who caused trouble without making purchases. “It’s nothing against you,” she says. “We’re just trying to make our customers feel safe.”

When White suggests that only she and the other black customer were asked to make purchases, Cabral says, “Oh please. Don’t get into the racial profiling. It’s my family. I find that offensive.”

After the women argue, Cabral picks up the phone. “You’re offending me,” she explains, dialing 911. “Because I’m not your skin color, you’re going to come at me that I’m racially profiling? I treat everyone the same … and now I am going to call the authorities because you’re recording me without telling me.” (Virginia is a one-party consent state).

“A franchise owner attempted to bully me,” White wrote on Facebook. “She lied about corporate policy, attempted to force me to make a purchase to be in the store because she has a loitering problem. She called the police to force me to leave when I told her she was profiling the gentleman and me. In her mind, I was the ‘people’ who loiter. In reality, I was a customer in her store, until yesterday, and I have been for more than 2 years.”

Tirza Wilbon White, who says she was racially profiled at a Dunkin’ Donuts store in Virginia. (Photo: Tirza Wilbon White via Facebook)

“I am still angry, more than 24 hours later, and I want justice for the humiliation I experienced,” wrote White. “Please share this and help me get justice. The owner, Christina Cabral, and her family own several Dunkin’ Donuts locations throughout Maryland and Virginia. I am not the only one they have treated this way, but hopefully, I will be the last one they treat this way.”

In the second video, a police officer arrives and immediately instructs White to leave the store “because she wants you to.”

“Am I in trouble if I choose not to leave?” she asks the policeman. He replies, “Yeah, if you choose not to leave, I will order you to leave. … I would issue you a summons and then if you don’t sign the summons, then I would have to arrest you.” White ultimately agrees to leave.

On Wednesday, White reported on Facebook that two Dunkin’ Donuts spokespeople had called her to apologize.

A Dunkin’ Donuts representative also sent a statement to Yahoo Lifestyle: “We and our franchisees want every customer who walks into a Dunkin’ restaurant to be treated with dignity and respect. This did not happen in a situation at a restaurant in Fairfax, Virginia. We have apologized to the customer, on behalf of both the brand and the franchisee who owns and operates this restaurant, but we know that is not enough.”

The statement continued: “Our franchisees are independent businesspeople, who so long as they comply with the law, may set their own policies in regards to certain things like Wi-Fi usage and whether to limit its use to only those who make a purchase. However, we are focused on helping our franchisees best serve our diverse customer base and are currently exploring how we can improve every aspect of our restaurant operations from store signage, recommended policies, and training for franchisees and their crew members. We are committed to doing better.”

White says the matter is still unresolved. “I feel sad and frightened. It hurts deeply,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “People have remarked how calm I was, but as a black person, I’ve learned to perform for my safety. I know that if I had been dressed differently in yoga pants, a hoodie, and speaking in a black vernacular, I may have had a worse outcome.”

She adds, “I’m scared for other people who may have responded more authentically in a less controlled manner when they’re being humiliated. And those are the people I spoke up for.”

The scholar of 15 years compares her experience to other viral videos. “We often see white people stop black people in public spaces and more or less ask them to defend their existence,” she says. “When a black person doesn’t justify the inquisition — providing their address, their intention, their right to occupy space — the police are weaponized.”

In October, a college professor named Timothy E. Nelson was ordered by a Dunkin’ Donuts franchise owner in Sante Fe, N.M., to leave the store due to its “one-hour rule” for customers. He told KOB-TV that if he wasn’t a black man with dreadlocks, “I don’t think I would’ve had the problem.” The owner, Irene Deubel, told the Santa Fe New Mexican that she asked Nelson to leave because “he was sitting here without purchasing something.” She later apologized for the “poor experience.”

And a Dunkin’ Donuts store in Portland, Maine, recently apologized to a customer named Hamdia Ahmed for an employee who called the police after overhearing her speak in her native Somali.

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