By Ahsleigh Atwell, Atlanta Black Star
Two Black men claim they were kicked out of an Illinois Walmart after they entered the store wearing surgical masks.
A video posted on YouTube, Jermon Best and his friend Diangelo Jackson walked through a Wood River, Illinois, Walmart as a white police officer trailed them.
“He just followed us from outside [and] told us we can’t wear masks,” Best said in the footage. He also accused the officer of telling them they cannot film the encounter even though the officer is reportedly wearing a body camera.
“We’re being asked to leave for being safe,” Best continued. He expressed concerns about the coronavirus and made sure other customers knew what was happening. The cop didn’t stop following the men until another customer approached him while Best and Jackson kept walking.
The video was uploaded to YouTube on March 18 and has garnered over 47,000 views. Wood River Police Chief Brad Wells told The Telegraph the incident happened before it was common for people to walk around in masks. He told the outlet the unidentified officer “was mistaken when it came to the store’s policy prohibiting masks.” Wells insisted the video wasn’t an accurate representation of the confrontation.
“Coronavirus is real! This police officer just put us out for wearing masks and staying safe,” Best shouted as he walked out of the store. When Jackson told another customer about the conflict, she agreed the situation was “f—-d up.”
“There’s not much I can say,” said Wells. “I backed the officer by what he tells me. Just like anything, there’s more to the story.”
Wells believes the men unfairly assumed the officer was being racist.
“They immediately went into the race issue,” said Wells. “He [the officer] didn’t kick them out of the store or refuse entry.
Best disputed Wells’ account and noted he never mentioned race in the video.
“I don’t know if he was having a bad day,” Best explained to The Telegraph. “I’ve never said that the guy was racist. All I’m saying is that his actions were suspect.”
Although race wasn’t mentioned in the video, Best noted Black people deal with this issue on a consistent basis.
“I don’t know this guy personally,” he said. “We just want to shine some light because this happens so often.”
Best and Jackson highlighted how dealing with law enforcement is risky for Black men.
“Being a young African-American male, it’s kind of hard when you interact with the police because you don’t know what state of mind they’re in,” said Best.
“Just watching a lot of videos of police officers abusing their authority towards people was keeping me afraid, wondering why this cop was harassing us,” Jackson said. “I was just more worried about him doing something he’s not supposed to do.”
It is unclear if the officer will experience any disciplinary action but Wells is open to investigating the encounter if Best and Jackson file a complaint.
This article originally appeared in the Atlanta Black Star.