A Houston graduate student felt safe inside the walls of her local library until she says a manager called police and accused her of trespassing, an incident she believes was racially motivated.
As part of her studies, Ashly Horace visits libraries to observe song and play through story time, according to ABC 13. Horace, who studies library science, said she was visiting a branch in the Houston suburb of West University last week when things completely went downhill.
“As soon as I got to the door, a lady stood in front of the door, blocking the door, almost as if she didn’t want me to come in,” she recalled. “She said, ‘Well, why are you here?’ I said ‘I’m here for story time.'”
The woman eventually let Horace inside where she took a seat at the backof the room. Moments later, the same employee returned and told Horace her manager said she had to leave. Baffled, the graduate student demanded to know why.
“She said, ‘If you don’t leave right now, I’m going to call the cops.’ And I was like, ‘Call the cops? What did I do?'” Horace said. “She was like, ‘I am going to call and tell them you’re trespassing.'”
Several West University Place police officers arrived to the library and spoke with Horace and the manager who demanded she leave. Ultimately, officers said the manager had the right to ask whoever she wants to leave, although the incident appeared to be a big misunderstanding.
“She’s making a big deal out of this. I didn’t do anything,” the Columbia University student is heard saying in audio from one of the officer’s body-worn cameras. “I didn’t even get out of my chair.”
The officer tells Horace she isn’t being cited for any criminal violation but that she must leave.
The incident comes amid a string of incidents where police are called on African-Americans for totally innocuous reasons. In Washington state, a Black man was booted out of a frozen yogurt shop by police after employees said he made them “uncomfortable.” Another man in Tennessee was nearly arrested for domestic violence this week after his neighbor heard him recite a line from Jay Z’s hit song “99 Problems.”
Horace said she feels the police would’ve never been called had she had what critics call the “complexion for protection.”
“I’f my skin wasn’t brown, you wouldn’t be doing this,'” she recalled telling the manager. “And she kind of looked, like, shocked.”
In a statement, Harris County Public Library officials said the young woman was asked to leave because she didn’t have a child accompanying her to story time. Although it’s not a written policy, library officials said it’s the “best practice” considering issues they’ve had in the past with strangers coming in and playing with other people’s kids.
Horace said she’s no stranger to the West U library, though. In fact, she applied to be a story assistant volunteer there, so the staff knew her name and were familiar with her, she told ABC 13.
Still, the library said the safety of the children is its number one priority.
“HCPL follows best practices in its unwritten policy that adults not accompanied by children are not allowed to participate in children’s activities and concern for children’s safety demands that library staff use due diligence to monitor the activities,” the Harris County Public Library said. “In response to this incident, HCPL plans to review and update our children’s programming safety policy, and draft written policy and procedures for library staff to follow when communicating their concerns more clearly and patiently to patrons.”
Library officials called the incident with Horace a case of “miscommunication” and have welcomed her back for future story time events.
Watch more in the clip below.