TIBURON (KPIX 5) — The Marin County town of Tiburon is buzzing about a video that shows police in an early morning confrontation over the weekend with an African-American business owner moving merchandise into his own store.
The incident was pretty simple. At 1 a.m. Saturday morning, Tiburon police officers saw three people inside the clothing store Yema on Main Street and decided to check it out.
Store proprietor Yema Khalif, his wife and business partner Hawi Awash and a friend were unloading new inventory when officers arrived and began questioning them. Video taken by Khalif’s wife captured the encounter.
“I want to know what you’re doing in this store at one o’clock in the morning?” one of the officers is heard asking in the clip.
“If I tell you it’s my store, then what?” Khalif responded.
“Then show me that it’s your store,” said the officer.
“I do not have to show you nothing!” replied Khalif.
Khalif’s shop has been at the Main Street location since February. He said he was insulted by the demands to prove he owned the store. Yema is the only black-owned clothing store in town.
“I wasn’t angry,” Khalif explained. “I was just putting my foot down that, hey, if this was some other person of a different color, you would not be acting this way and you would not be here at this particular hour.”
As Khalif argued with the officers, his wife Hawi became increasingly frightened.
“Absolutely. One of the police officers had his hand on his gun, which was the most terrifying part for me,” she said.
“You are in a store, after hours when the stores are closed,” one officer is heard saying in the video. “You should be grateful that we’re being as diligent as we are to look after the street. That’s all we do!”
The officers were clearly frustrated, arguing that they were just doing their job and telling Khalif all he had to do was show that his key fit into the door. But before that happened, a man in the neighborhood called down, saying Khalif did own the store.
The officers promptly left, but Khalif feels that just proves his point.
“It took a white man across the street — who did not come down to show his identification and prove who he was — to de-escalate the situation and make it go away,” Khalif said. “So that tells you something.”
Tiburon Mayor Alice Fredricks has issued a public apology and police said in a written statement that an independent investigation of the incident will be conducted.
While some in the community showed up Tuesday to support the business owners, resident Rand Schulman said he sees both sides in the dispute.
“I appreciate the police taking notice that something is a little bit out of the pattern that they see and they investigated it. I understand that point of view,” Schulman said. “The other point of view is, I’m also sensitive to being asked for my identification or things where I’ve done nothing wrong.”
The city says the findings of the investigation by an independent attorney will be provided to the Town Manager for review and appropriate action.
Meanwhile, Khalif acknowledged his life experience as a black man probably influenced his reaction in this case. But that’s what happens when trust is lost and the actions of everyone — citizens and police officers alike — are seen as being “suspicious.”