How to help racially profiled employee?
June 10, 2020 11:22 PM   Subscribe

One of my employees is a young black man who is being relentlessly profiled and harassed by neighbors and property managers at his apartment because they think he’s a “thug” or a drug dealer < Tonight, a neighbor called the police on him and he reached out to me in panic and frustration. What can we do?

I am a manager at a small organization and the young man In question(Mark), is one of our star employees. He’s in his early 20s and last summer moved into his first solo apartment, located in a wealthy, white suburb. He had difficulties finding an apartment in the area because property managers assumed he was a drug dealer or a gangster; many apartment complexes he researched asked for an unnecessarily large amount of documentation to “prove” that he actually worked at our organization, or they cancelled pre-scheduled apartment tours once he arrived and they saw that he was black.

Due to the pandemic, he’s been working from home since March, and has had several alarming interactions with his White female neighbor and with employees of the apartment complex.

The neighbor assumes that Mark is a drug dealer and asks him about the “pounds of cocaine and marijuana” in his apartment. She has also made complaints to the property management, accusing him of hoarding or selling drugs. These claims are absolutely false, but management has taken the neighbor’s side and have sent him warnings, with empty threats to call the police to search his apartment. Mark has followed up with his own complaints about the harassment (backed with documentation and recordings) which have been largely ignored.

Due to these negative interactions, he has tried to avoid this woman as much as possible.

He called me in a panic tonight because the woman pulled an Amy Cooper by calling the police on him and his brother, claiming that they had threatened to kill her. Unequivocally false! Thankfully, the police took his side, but he was very shaken up. He told me that this continued harassment had been affecting his health and his ability to do his job. He is considering moving out of the complex to avoid the constant harassment and humiliation.

We cried together, cussed together, and I told him I would do everything in my power to make this right. But I’m not sure what the best course of action is.

I want to call* the property manager and let her know that the actions of one of her tenants is causing immense harm to my employee, and I’d like to threaten to get the media involved.

If I were a white person, I’d drive down to the management office to raise holy hell in person, COVID-19 be damned. But I’m black as well, and I think that if the management has already shown a complete disregard to one black person, they’re unlikely to pay any attention to me.

I’ve dealt with racist microaggressions against myself before, but never to this extreme, and the police have never been involved, and I’ve never felt such a sense of duty and responsibility, not only to Mark, but to my organization. My (White female) bosses have recently issued statements about how we support Black Lives Matter, but now we have the opportunity to demonstrate that we care about Mark’s very real black life that is really in danger. He is the only non-white man in our organizwtion, and the only one who truly understands what it is like to walk around with a target on your back on a daily basis.

I’ve texted my boss to give them the high level detail of what happened tonight, but I want to have suggestions for a game plan when we chat tomorrow.

Bonus question: what can I do to continue supporting my employee during this traumatic time? I’ve already given him the rest of the week off, and I’ve reinforced that he can call me, day or night, about anything. I’m glad he took me up on that tonight. Is there anything else I can do to help him during this time?

* I’m fully fluent in SAE & AAVE dialects and can code-switch like a mutha; literally no one knows I’m black on the phone unless I want them to know.
posted by chara to Human Relations (17 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I would ask the white women leading the organization to do what you planned to, with Mark’s consent. Inform the building manager that if the harassing woman is not evicted legally for her racist harassment, which is almost certainly within their power in your jurisdiction (consult a lawyer) you will contact the media and local tenants rights organizations.

I would also ask the ED or board director to call the relevant police department and put the local public information officer on notice that Mark works for your prominent and influential organization. Ask the PIO to record Mark’s address and flag it for 911 as the target of racialized harassment. Inform the PIO that if anything happens to Mark, the ED will share the details of this conversation (which they recorded, with consent) with the media.

If the harassing woman is not evicted from the building, then you bring in the press. Look up the people at the local TV station, NPR affiliate and paper of record who have recently written about police violence. Find their emails on twitter. Email them a brief description, basically what you’ve written here. One of them will write you back. This will change the situation. If you have a comms person for your organization, this should be easy.

Good luck. PM me if you want. I have worked in a mayor’s office with the police (and now work for abolition to atone) so I know how they think, and have been in crisis PR for a decade. I think this would be enough to make Mark a lot safer in a clearly very dangerous situation. I have been reading AskMefi for years and created an account today just because I’ve been in similar situations and wanted to help. And because you have me so scared for Mark!
posted by fuckthepolice at 11:41 PM on June 10, 2020 [120 favorites]

If Mark is reluctant to have his white female uber-boss involved in his personal life (he may be), I would be prepared with some referrals to local civil rights organizations or lawyers, and to offer to make the call for him if he doesn't want to himself. They can take similar actions on his behalf as those outlined by FTP.

Good luck. This is an awful situation and so unfair and dangerous to Mark.
posted by praemunire at 11:54 PM on June 10, 2020 [10 favorites]

Police were on his side when the neighbor called? GOOD! Help your employee file for a restraining order against neighbor. Also contact the apartment building owner and file complaints about the property manager (assuming they are not one and the same) with all the details about discrimination lawsuits, going to the media, etc.
posted by WeekendJen at 12:35 AM on June 11, 2020 [20 favorites]

Whoa. This is complicated. If Mark consents, I think having the white boss talk to the property manager is the way to go. "He's our star employee, and we are very concerned about the discrimination he's experiencing at this building." Like, this is the perfect time for her to go all, "I want to speak to the manager" on Mark's behalf. If the complex is owned by a larger chain, I might bump up higher than the employees at the complex (who might not have authority to do more than show apartments, etc). I think you want to speak with the owner, not the leasing agent.

I would not ask for the other person to be evicted. Depending your state, there might not be evictions allowed right now. Also, I'd be worried she would really escalate in that case, given her willingness to lie. I can't speak to whether a restraining order is a good idea.

What does Mark want? Does he want to stay in that unit in that complex? Or does he want to move? Has anyone else bothered him besides the woman neighbor and the employees?

If he wants to move, I guess I'd try to help him to do that -- get the white boss to get the property manager to let him out of his lease, get his deposit back, etc. And then maybe you all could help him find another place?

It sounds like you all are in a super white area where he might get harassed regularly. Are there any more integrated neighborhoods? Have you had any problems like this? I know you want to keep Mark working for you, but if he can't find a place to live where he's not harassed just for living his life, he might not want to stay. So I think I would try to see if there was a neighborhood where he wouldn't be the only black person. If you are going to be working remotely for a while, perhaps he could move a bit further away without it creating a longer commute?

This totally sucks. If I were you, I might try calling the property manager and putting on your best white woman voice (ugh, you know what I mean) and having a conversation, if you think you are up for it.
posted by bluedaisy at 12:59 AM on June 11, 2020 [4 favorites]

Please keep in mind that corporate property managers are essentially apolitical in process: they just want problems to go away. If they believe it's easier to get Mark to move than to get the racist to move, they'll go down that path. Soooo... What needs to happen is it needs to be seen as less trouble to evict the racist than to hassle Mark enough that he leaves.

So do that. Make the property manager's job absolute hell in re: the racist.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:34 AM on June 11, 2020 [15 favorites]

Any chance your white boss or some of their donors wanna put their money where their mouths are when it comes to Black lives and find him somewhere better to live (rich people have surplus housing, as a rule). And i strongly second the suggestion above to find him some legal representation as well.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 6:20 AM on June 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

How can I donate to Mark & his brother's legal fund?
posted by at at 6:58 AM on June 11, 2020 [12 favorites]

what state/country are you in?

In any case, in my experience, what you want here is a letter from an attorney* to the property company (cc'd as high up the chain as possible telling them that what they are doing and permitting to be done is illegal seven ways from Sunday and they'd better stop it right now or they'll be in a world of hurt. ("Stop it" also means "stop permitting it to happen" which can mean evicting the racist neighbor.)

By all means, if your company is serious about helping its black employees, get them to foot the bill.

*not just any attorney obviously. Someone with a practice doing plaintiff-side civil rights suits under whatever your local housing laws are. Alternatively, many big firms have pro bono departments who do this kind of work, and a masthead like that is a nice bit of intimidation to shoot across the bow.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:20 AM on June 11, 2020 [3 favorites]

I would definely run any steps your company takes by him before doing them.

One thing I don't think has been touched on yet is having the company contact local politicians, assuming you live in an area that's not governed by overt racists. I don't know that a real estate rental company is going to care much about the opinions of a local company but politicians often do.
posted by Candleman at 8:23 AM on June 11, 2020 [3 favorites]

I have seen several instances of people posting descriptions/proof of racist interactions on social media, and within a few days the racist and their place of employment are identified. They are then usually fired, or if they own a business they lose contracts from others. Spreading this information on social media could result in calls and messages to the rental company, which could "change their mind" about how to deal with these incidents.
posted by Pwoink at 8:37 AM on June 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

Probably worth having a good private detective firm run a background check on the neighbor, and possibly the building management.
posted by Sophont at 8:44 AM on June 11, 2020

Please post an update when you have one. This is horrifying. Also people want to DO THINGS and HELP now. If you have a place to donate, it seems you've already got a few takers in here.
posted by Glinn at 1:14 PM on June 11, 2020 [2 favorites]

I encourage you to start with finding local attorneys (MeFi Wiki) who have experience with civil rights issues (e.g. your local ACLU), before taking any panic-driven actions other than first consulting with an attorney, who can assess the specific situation with more complete information and according to the laws in your jurisdiction. From my view, an important way to support someone who has been traumatized is to be vigilant in protecting their autonomy, which can include offering to help connect them to legal resources that can help them decide how to proceed with the assistance of an experienced legal advocate who can provide protected confidentiality and exert legal authority in situations like this.

There sometimes seems to be a wide gulf between how AskMe wants the laws to be and what the laws actually are, and there is a lesser-discussed area of what lawyers can do in a situation like this, particularly in housing law. Lawyers can be like armor, and to the extent that your friend is able to find a lawyer, it could be very helpful, both against pervasive racist harassment and implied threats of serious harm or worse, and the good intentions of allies who may need encouragement to step back and stop trying to tell your friend what to do. You can present options, help find resources, and reassure them that you will support their decisions regardless of how they choose to proceed. You do seem like a very good friend, and Mark sounds fortunate to have your strength and support.
posted by katra at 1:38 PM on June 11, 2020 [12 favorites]

A friend just went through something similar with anti-asian racism during the early period of covid. They engaged a lawyer who discovered that all the complaints were undocumented and unsubstantiated and the property manager was fired. This doesn't address the racist complainer but did remove the power they leveraged through the property manager, while escalating the issue to building and management owners. So I would recommend a lawyer who can escalate the situation and hopefully sever the power differentials in terms of the property manager.
posted by geek anachronism at 3:31 PM on June 11, 2020 [4 favorites]

before taking any panic-driven actions other than first consulting with an attorney, who can assess the specific situation with more complete information and according to the laws in your jurisdiction

While OP can help with facilitating the initial connection, a lawyer representing Mark will not discuss Mark's case with OP except maybe in the most generic possible way.
posted by praemunire at 3:46 PM on June 11, 2020 [3 favorites]

If you are in the United States, encourage Mark to file an official complaint against the property management company with his city and/or state civil rights commission.
posted by epj at 8:30 PM on June 11, 2020 [1 favorite]


Please, please, please involve your company’s legal department before you follow any of the advice, because I would guess that much of it (demand the racist tenet be evicted, contact the media and local politicians, HIRE A PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR TO DIG UP INFORMATION ON THE TENENT(!!!)) has a non zero chance of getting everyone involved fired. And it doesn’t help Mark if he (and you, and boss you said you texted about this) don’t have a job anymore.

It’s one thing to give Mark resources and let him run with it, it’s another to insert yourself as “Mark’s boss, who represents Such And Such Inc.” It’s even another to put things in motion that could be construed as “Such And Such Inc Demands the Eviction of Resident of Apartment Complex”.
posted by sideshow at 10:07 PM on June 11, 2020 [3 favorites]

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