When the officer bit into his sandwich during his lunch break Monday, he heard a crunching noise. A few moments later, blood was dripping from his mouth.
Investigators with the Columbus, Ohio, police department are trying to determine whether the shards of glass in the officer’s sandwich got there accidentally or were placed intentionally by an employee at the Lincoln Cafe on East Long Street. Neither the officer nor a worker who was questioned in the incident have been identified, and no one has been charged, but police want to know whether there was malicious intent, and whether it was motivated by the officer’s badge.
Leon Lewis, manager at the Lincoln Cafe, told the NBC affiliate that the restaurant is investigating the incident. He told the news station that police officers regularly patronize his business and they’ve never had any incidents before.
So far, police told the NBC affiliate, there isn’t a reason to suspect this act was carried out to harm an officer.
But for police advocates, cases such as these raise other questions.
Fatal shootings of civilians by officers, such as those in Baton Rouge and Falcon Heights, Minn., and recent attacks on officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge are a stark reminder of the strained relationship between police departments and the communities they serve. But those tensions are playing out in smaller ways and smaller arenas across the country — including at the nation’s lunch tables.
“I saw a bulletin that came out yesterday … encouraging officers not to eat in restaurants because it makes you a public target,” said Terry Cunningham, president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, who told The Washington Post he doesn’t tell people he’s a police officer when he orders takeout. “You can’t operate under that condition all the time, especially in the half an hour that [police] go to get a sandwich or a cup of coffee. This just adds to that cumulative stress that they’re under. It’s a sad, sad commentary.”
From Washington to Alabama
The Skagit County, Wash., Sheriff’s Office posted last week that two deputies were told they couldn’t eat at Lucky Teriyaki restaurant in Sedro-Woolley, a city in the county. In his Facebook post, Sheriff Will Reichardt said he was “speechless” at the treatment of his deputies:
As 2 deputies went up to pay they were informed by the owner that he requested they not eat there anymore. They were told that other customers didn’t like law enforcement there. My chief deputy spoke to the owner to confirm this because he simply could not believe what he was hearing. The owner not only repeated the request but asked that we spread the word to other law enforcement that they were no longer welcome either.
I understand a business owner has a right to refuse service if he wants to. … I also understand that as customers we all have the right to find some other restaurant to take our lunch break in.
The post included a picture of the restaurant, and prominently displayed its phone number and address. After a social media storm, the restaurant owner and his son apologized to the Sheriff’s Office and announced that officers could eat free on Mondays.
A Taco Bell employee in eastern Alabama was fired earlier this week when she refused to serve two sheriff’s deputies, telling them “we don’t serve law enforcement, and you need to leave.”
In Philadelphia last year, a uniformed officer posted on Facebook after an employee wouldn’t let him use the bathroom. “In a time when police are being made the enemy, Your clerk pulls this nonsense,” another officer said in a post to the company. “And might I point out, this store is a frequent caller to police for some sort of service.”
Katie Niebaum, a spokeswoman with the National Restaurant Association, told The Post that there are several examples of restaurants that have tried to bring together police and communities in the wake of tragedies in Baton Rouge and Dallas.
“With over 1 million restaurants nationwide serving millions of Americans, the restaurant industry is the cornerstone of communities across the country,” she said in a statement. “As the industry of hospitality, restaurants strive to offer a welcoming environment for guests and employees each and every day. In light of recent tragic events, restaurants and their staff have been and should continue to focus on bringing communities together.”
‘A weary fear’
A Washington Post article after the attacks on officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge described increased tension and “a weary fear” that officers feel in many aspects of their jobs:
Officers have described increased tension as they do their jobs, arising from heightened community suspicion and increased official scrutiny of their use of deadly force.
Current and former police officers say they feel under siege and vulnerable. Officers have said they keep their guns with them at times when they usually wouldn’t and feel the taunts of people who follow and film them with cellphones while they’re working.
Officer Montrell Jackson, one of three officers killed in Baton Rouge, talked about the weariness he felt after the assaults on officers in Dallas and protests following a fatal officer-involved shooting in his own city.
In a Facebook post, he wrote: “In uniform I get nasty hateful looks and out of uniform some consider me a threat,” he wrote. “I’m tired physically and emotionally.”