Black people are well aware of the potential threat of violence from police, but two recent incidents show they also may need to be wary of private security officers. Several news reports stated a Black man was assaulted by a security officer assigned to an Oakland Whole Foods store, after he got into an argument with an employee. The security officer slammed the Black man into a wall and put him into a choke hold until he passed out. The assault left the victim lying in a pool of his own blood. A small crowd of protesters demonstrated in front of the store on Sunday. Eyewitnesses said the attack was unwarranted.
“He wasn’t shouting at anyone. He wasn’t violent or disruptive,” said Zoe Marks, who later posted pictures of the assault to Facebook. “There was no threat from him to any of the customers or employees. [We] felt safe until the security guard attacked him.”
The attack was so severe it required the attention of emergency services. Oakland police say they are investigating the incident. Whole Foods later terminated their contract with the guard’s firm, Admiral Security Services, and also banned the guard from the store, according to The Oakland Tribune.
“Whole Foods Market considers the safety and security of all team members, customers and members of our community a top priority,” said Beth Krauss, a spokesman for the store. “While we move swiftly to gather the facts, we want to make it clear that Whole Foods Market takes a zero tolerance approach to violence.”
According to ThinkProgress, private security guards, who outnumber police 5 to 1, might be even more of a threat to Black people than law enforcement. Security expert Bruce Schneier said they “often receive minimal training, if any. They don’t graduate from police academies.”
“[A]buses of power, brutality, and illegal behavior are much more common among private security guards,” Schneier said.
However, security guards who commit murders and assaults might not receive the same protection police officers get in court. Prosecutors are often reluctant to indict police officers who they work closely with, but this is not the case with security guards. According to Raw Story, security guard Lukace Kendle is facing murder charges for the shooting death of Kijuan Byrd outside Club Lexx in North Miami-Dade.
Kendle, who is representing himself, is also accused of shooting and paralyzing Michael Smathers, who he found smoking pot in his truck. The security guard blamed his prosecution on George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watchman who killed Florida teen Trayvon Martin.
“The reason the evidence was fabricated is because I’m white,” Kendle told jurors. “The subjects I shot were African-American, I can prove that. What they’re not allowing me to tell you is that I was arrested because of the George Zimmerman shooting.”
Kendle was twice ruled mentally incompetent to stand trial, but after rehabilitation he insisted on representing himself. Like Zimmerman, Kendle is trying to use Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which allows people to use lethal force to protect themselves, as a defense. He told jurors both Byrd and Smathers were “forward aggressors.”
“They forced me to survive,” Kendle said. “I’m paid to protect. Having no duty to retreat, I stood my ground.”
However, the investigation found Byrd tried to get away from Kendle by hiding under his truck. In an emotional outburst, Byrd’s father accused Kendle of faking mental illness to avoid prison.
“He needs to go to prison,” Byrd’s father shouted before being removed from court. “He wasn’t crazy when he killed my son. He was trying to get away from you and you murdered him, man.”
The Byrd family has lobbied lawmakers to pass legislation that would require standards and mental health evaluations before security guards are hired.