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About Race, About Face
by Ron Davis
Were African-American youths singled out for harassment by security personnel at a West Virginia shopping center because of their race? Or did the actions of the youths violate the center’s code of conduct, thus warranting the attention of the center’s security for reasons that are nondiscriminatory?
Those questions arose following a 2008 confrontation between security personnel at the shopping center—Charleston Town Center—and a group of African-American teenagers visiting there.
The confrontation at the shopping center began when the youths first arrived at the facility and received what they contend was immediate and unduly attention from security personnel.
The youths then met with another African-American youth group at the center’s food court.. They said that while seated there, a security officer approached them and told them to leave because they had not ordered food or drinks from the food court’s vendors. The youths refused to comply with the officer’s demand, and the officer summoned city of Charleston police officers to the scene.
The youths initially balked when those officers told them to leave, but eventually did so. Then, they said, while they were strolling through the center’s common area, a security guard told them to “keep moving.”
Later, they visited a restaurant tenant of the shopping center and joined another group of African-American youths. The arrival of local police caused the group to disperse, but two of the youths who had confronted security personnel earlier inside the shopping center began arguing with the police at the scene. Officers arrested the two, charging that they were trespassing. That charge, however, was later dropped.
Details of the incident eventually got the attention of the West Virginia Human Rights Commission. And at a hearing into the matter, a judge determined that the Charleston Town Center had discriminated against the youths based on their race. The judge ordered the center’s owner to pay the youths $5,000 each for “humiliation, embarrassment, emotional distress, and loss of personal dignity suffered as a result of unlawful discrimination.”
The shopping center owner appealed that decision.
The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia reversed the ruling by the lower court, explaining, “This court has recognized that discipline imposed upon a minority does not alone equate to racial discrimination unless there is a preponderance of evidence that the discipline was imposed in a discriminatory manner or for a discriminatory purpose….
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