My name is Hamdia Ahmed. I am a model, activist and a college student. I was born during the Somali war in 1997, and I was raised in a refugee camp located in Kenya. My family and I moved to the United States in 2005 to have a better life to escape the difficulties of living in a refugee camp. I remember how excited my family and I were when we found out we would be moving here. I always heard great stories about America. I heard that it was a safe place and there were more opportunities.
As a child, I learned American history in school, but we were not taught the whole story. I never learned the truth about the history of America. I did not know that racism, discrimination and Islamophobia existed until I experienced it firsthand. The first time I ever experienced Islamophobia was when I was told, “Go back to your country!” by a white man at the age of 10. I was so sad to hear this, but this was the beginning of my first journey experiencing this, and it has, unfortunately, occurred many more times since.
On the afternoon of Monday, October 15th, my mother, brother and I went to a Dunkin’ Donuts on St Johns Street in Portland, Maine to get coffee. We had a long and busy morning, so we just wanted to grab something on our way home. We arrived at the drive-thru and waited until it was our turn to order. We were chatting and having a conversation in our native language, Somali. We were trying to figure out who was going to place the order and trying to get things situated before an employee spoke to us. Suddenly, we heard through the microphone, “Stop yelling, you’re being disrespectful.” We were all confused and surprised to hear this, as it came before we were greeted or asked for our order. I responded to the employee, “We are not yelling. We are having a conversation and were waiting for our turn to order.”
The employee continued to argue with me, and I told her again that we weren’t yelling, we were having a conversation. That was what Somali sounds like. She then told me, “You’re disrespecting me. You know what? Leave, or I am calling the cops.” I was scared to hear this because we were not doing anything wrong. Another employee told me to leave, and I asked for the manager. The same women who disrespected us and was threatening to call the police told us that she was the manager. I told her again, “Don’t respect me like that, I was talking to my family in my language and having a conversation. You’re going to disrespect me because I speak another language?” She responded “I don’t want to hear it, this has nothing to do with that, you can leave or I’m calling the cops.” We were again being threatened.
I decided to go inside the store and speak with the same manager who was threatening to call the police on us, in hopes of trying to resolve the situation. My brother stayed in the car because he was afraid. He never had to deal with the police before, and as a Black man in America he was scared for his safety. I wanted to know what exactly we did wrong and to stand up for people like me. When I entered the store, I was called a “b-tch” by a white female employee. Two white women were standing by to help film the situation. I went up to the same manager and asked her “Why are you threatening to call the police on us? What exactly did we do wrong?” She changed her attitude and tried to play the victim. She told me, “You were yelling, you were agitated. That’s why I was threatening to call the cops.” Her definition of “yelling” is that we were speaking in our language, in our own car, and she knew that. She knew nobody was talking to us in the microphone yet, and we were just having a conversation.
I was not going to leave until the police showed up. I wanted to know exactly what we did wrong. She called the police, and they showed up. Two officers arrived; one of them went inside the store to get her side of the story, and one of them interviewed the other witnesses and me. I explained to the officer what happened. My mother explained her side of the story, as did the other witness. The officer came back and we were told we were being served a trespass, meaning we could not come back to this location or we’d face arrest. The officer told me that any business can get a trespass on anyone. I was the one served with a trespass because I speak English and defended my family. I could not believe what they did to my family and me. As we were walking back to the car to leave, one of the employees came from the back door and harassed us.
I asked the officer, “Do you see this? She just harassed us, and you’re not going to do anything?” The officer told me, “I will go inside and deal with it.” My family and I left, traumatized. I was crying, and my mother and brother felt so sad. We did not commit any crime and yet the police were called on us. We never threatened anyone, we never harassed anyone— nothing. The only crime we committed was speaking in our native language and having a conversation.
I am so disgusted that people act this way. I am disgusted that the police were called on us. We see so many cases where the police are called on Black people for no reason with terrible consequences. We saw the Starbucks situation, where two Black men were arrested just for sitting inside a Starbucks, and many other situations similar to this. I want Dunkin’ Donuts to train their employees so that situations like this don’t happen in their stores again. Your employees are serving people from different backgrounds and religions. If they don’t know how to act professionally, they don’t need to work in your business and they reflect poorly on the entire company. I want those two workers who discriminated against and disrespected my family to be held accountable, I want training for their staff as well. If we are going to give our money to Dunkin’ Donuts, they need to respect us. The owner of that particular store has reached out and apologized to my family and I for what happened. He acknowledge that the police should have never been called. We appreciate his apology, but the damage has already been done. My family and I have been traumatized by everything that happened to us.