A group of entrepreneurs who operate an African American-owned social media marketing firm in Minneapolis say that video of them being confronted in an exercise space shows blatant racial profiling and that they are glad it was all caught on camera.
A video from Wednesday (May 27), posted to the Instagram account of the firm, Top Figure Media shows the encounter in which partners Abdi Hassan, Salman Elmi and three others, who work there in a conflict with a white man who works in the same building. The man identified himself on the video as Tom Austin and can be seen asking the group if they were tenants in the building, requesting to see their identification while proceeding to take pictures of them with his cellphone.
Pushing back, the young men refused to show identification and questioned Austin’s assertions that they don’t look like they belong in the gym.
Now, Austin has been fired from his job and his office lease has been terminated by the Ackerburg Group, which owns the building, according to Newsweek, as a result of what can only be called racial profiling of these young men.
Watch the encounter here:
So, What Happened?
In the Instagram post, which is on the Top Figure Media account, Austin entered the private gym facility in their office building, the MoZaic East in Uptown Minneapolis, while the Top Figure Media owners were working out and demanded to know who they were, despite the fact that the facility can only be accessed with a key card.
The five individuals, all Black men, protested, saying that they were being racially profiled despite having an office in the building for nearly two years, according to their post.
“We all pay rent here and this man demanded that we show him our key cards or he will call the cops on us,” the post from Top Figure said. “We are sick and tired of tolerating this type of behavior on a day to day basis and we feel that we had to bring light onto this situation.”
In an interview with BET.com, Hassan said all five men who work for the firm have key cards for the gym space and are authorized to use it.
“It was a very sad incident, we want it to all work out and we didn’t want all this to happen.” Hassan said. “We simply just go to the gym everyday and workout and for this to happen was actually very sad.”
Four of the firm’s members had been working out prior to Austin’s entry. Hassan said he walked in last. Once he entered, that’s when Austin decided to confront the group asking, “Are you guys supposed to be in here?” according to Hassan.
“Then he demanded that every single one of us show him a key card,” Hassan continued. “We said, ‘no we’re not going to show you a key card’ because you’re not the building owner, you’re not an officer, we don’t have to show you anything. You’re just another tenant.”
At that point, Hassan said, Austin took out his phone and began to take pictures of the group. In response, another of the partners, Zak Ahmed pulled out his phone and started recording the incident.
He Says It Wasn’t About Race
In the video, Austin said that he would call 911, but he actually called the building maintenance staff, who sent a worker up and left without incident, having recognized all of the group.
Austin, who was a managing partner of F2 Group, a Minneapolis-based venture capital and private equity firm, confirmed to Newsweek that he has since been fired and his lease was terminated.
Prior to that announcement, Austin spoke with BET.com insisting that race played no part in what happened.
Austin said that building management had notified tenants that people in the building were allowing their friends to come into the gym. When Austin arrived, he noticed five men there who he did not recognize. One of them, he said, was letting the four others in and out of the facility with his key card. He then asked them if they were tenants, and that’s where the confrontation began.
“I wasn’t scared, but I was just like, this is bullsh*t,” Austin said. “You guys aren’t supposed to be here and now you’re deflecting by trying to change this into a race issue.”
He said he asked if they also received an email from the building property manager, a name which he says they did not know. Austin told them that if they did not have an entry device, they should not have been there. In retrospect, he said he regrets it all.
“It’s not my place, I shouldn’t have said that,” he lamented. “I should have just kept to myself.” He explained that he didn’t call the police, but rather the building manager to verify that the group belonged there.
“I apologized to them,” Austin said. “I said, ‘if you were a bunch of white guys I would have done the same thing.’ We talked for another 10 minutes after that and I thought they finally accepted my apology.”
He said they ended up working out for 45 minutes together and left after a fist bump with the group.
Hassan and partner Salman Elmi do not corroborate Austin’s version of events. They say they were actually trying to diffuse the situation, rather than escalate it, although Austin says they were being confrontational.
“We were trying to calm the situation down,” said Elmi. “And I’m glad we got this on video because no one would have believed how this went down if we did not have this on video.
“Being a Black person in America, calling the police is the biggest threat,” he continued. “He knew what he was doing when he said that. Later on, he said the reason that he said that threat was to see if we would run away, and then he would know if we didn’t belong.”
When asked about Austin losing his job and his lease, Hassan had one thing to say:
“We wish him the best.”
What Comes Next?
Both Elmi and Hassan confirm that Austin offered an apology, but they felt it was insincere and that nobody became collegial enough to workout with him. The fist bump, they said, was a contrived attempt to smooth over a blatant insult.
“He knew we weren’t feeling happy or cool after the moment, said Hassan. “He knew, especially with what just happened recently in Minneapolis, he knew what he was doing. We were not going to just take a normal apology. We could have just kept quiet and swept it under the table, but how many times will things like this keep happening. The entitlement, that we had an obligation to show him this thing.
“The damage has already been done,” he continued. “This is not just something you can just brush under the table and say ‘get over it.’ “
The incident is one of several high profile racial incidents this week involving Black people. On Monday (May 25), Christian Cooper was threatened with calling the police based on his race by a white woman in New York’s Central Park after he asked her to curb her dog while in a bird sanctuary.
That same day, George Floyd died at the hands of a white police officer, also in Minneapolis, while being arrested. The officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on his neck until he lost consciousness while three other officers, Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng watched. Chauvin has been charged with murder and manslaughter and all four have been fired.
Also, a video taken May 26 in Ypsilanti Township, Michigan shows a Black woman, Sha’Teina Grady El being punched and body slammed as Washtenaw County sheriff's deputies try to cordon off a crime scene. Her husband Dan Grady El was tased in the incident and both were arrested. Demonstrations have ensued in the days following, according to local news website MLive.com.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story said that the gym was in a WeWorks office space. In actuality, it is located in Minneapolis' Mozaic East building. WeWorks is a tenant in the property.