It appears that Tiburon taxpayers struck a fair agreement with the owners of a Main Street boutique who had a racially charged run-in with town police officers in August 2020.
The late-night standoff fed the nationwide outcry following the police murder of George Floyd and served as a reminder that racial profiling by police is prevalent much closer to home.
The store owners sued the town for $2 million, but settled for $150,000 and a number of local reforms. Yema Khalif and Hawi Awash, both of whom are Black, will each serve one-year terms on the town’s newly formed town’s police advisory committee that is being formed to provide ongoing review of the town’s police department.
The settlement also requires officers to hand out business cards, identifying themselves and providing information about the town’s online “transparency” page where there’s information on how to provide feedback about interactions with town police and the town’s diversity and inclusion task force.
The couple hopes the settlement’s initiatives can serve as a template for other communities seeking police reform and an end to racial profiling.
They are planning to donate part of their settlement to a scholarship fund for youth education in Kenya and Ethiopia.
The pact avoids litigation, which could have proven costly and time consuming for the town and the couple.
“We love our community,” said Khalif in a press release. He said the couple wanted to make sure people are aware that changes need to take place and that the town and its police department have implemented changes “to improve policing in the community.”
“We’re going to speak out,” he said. “We’re going to be vocal and we are going to show how people deserve to be treated.”
The 2020 exchange occurred when police officers found Khalif and Awash in their store long after normal closing and questioned them. The couple had recently been honored for their new store, but police still questioned them and repeatedly asked Khalif to provide his ID and proof that he worked in the store.
Khalif, who asserted that the couple was being racially profiled, responded that he did not have to provide ID or defend his presence.
Ultimately, a neighbor told police that Khalif was the store owner.
The run-in was caught on video and made news across the nation.
Would Khalif have been questioned by police if he was White? The national uproar over racial profiling by police raises that question.
It was clear that in Tiburon its use of “community policing” was wanting when officers involved in the incident did not know the store owners, among the few that line Main Street.
Town officials quickly apologized.
An investigation was commissioned. The findings remain confidential due to confidential personnel rules and, according to one news account, the refusal of officers who were involved in the incident to consent to its public release.
The town denied our request for the document, deeming that it was exempt from disclosure under state law because it was a record of an investigatory file.
We are not sure either excuse serves the public. Keeping the results of the town’s investigation sealed leaves the public in the dark at a time when light and transparency are warranted and needed.
The incident also led the IJ and the Marin Council of Chambers to launch the “We Are One Marin” campaign, providing ad space to local stores with diverse owners.
It was an ugly incident, but a mutual commitment has been forged so good will come from it.
Khalif and Awash are showing their support for their community.
The run-in put the town in that national spotlight. The town and the community, including Khalif and Awash, have the opportunity to prove they can enact and implement changes that make a difference, in Tiburon and, hopefully, in other communities, as well.