After his since-deleted Instagram post alleging he'd been racially profiled during a trip to a Whitefish Bay, Wis, jewelry store earned national attention this week, Milwaukee Bucks power forward/center John Henson met Tuesday with Schwanke-Kasten Jewelers president Tom Dixon, who apologized for the treatment the 24-year-old big man received.
Henson, who recently signed a four-year, $44 million contract extension with the Bucks, wrote in the caption of his Instagram post that he went to the suburban shop to buy his first Rolex watch. He said he was met with a locked door and that a store employee turned him away when he requested service before calling the police, who approached him asking "what I wanted amongst other things that were just irrelevant to me being there just trying to shop at the store like a normal paying customer would do."
After officers informed the employee that Henson was a member of the Bucks, the employee let him in, but "requested that an officer stand by as [Henson and his friend] looked at the Rolexes," according to a statement issued by Whitefish Bay Chief of Police Michael D. Young. The officers refused, and left.
"This was one of the the most degrading and racially prejudice [sic] things I've ever experienced in life and wouldn't wish this on anyone," Henson wrote.
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After Henson's post began to gain traction, Dixon issued a statement saying there's no excuse for how Henson was treated, that he believes "everyone — professional athlete or not — deserves to be treated with dignity and respect," and that he looked forward to the opportunity "to sit down directly with John Henson to look one another in the eye, shake hands, and apologize for what he experienced."
He got that opportunity on Tuesday, offering what Henson termed a "sincere" apology, according to Andrew Wagner of The Associated Press:
"He knew that shouldn't have happened," said Henson, who is black. "He'd had some prior incidents but it still doesn't make it right for them to do what they did. It's a real issue today but right now, I want to focus on the game tonight and there will be time to talk about it later. I am going to do some things to raise awareness of situations like that and go from there.'' [...]
Henson didn't intend for his social media post to go viral but was pleased that it drew attention to the bigger problem and hopes to use it as [a] teaching tool.
"I tried to react the right way and get my message out without getting over-emotional," Henson said. "There have been a few requests for me to come into schools and talk about what happened and help them understand how to react and how not to react.
"If I can keep this from happening to at least one person, then I felt like I've done my job as a player with a platform to say something. That's all I wanted to do. It was a misunderstanding but nobody should ever have to deal with something like that."
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Dixon claimed the incident was a "misunderstanding" stemming not to the color of the 6-foot-11 Henson's skin, but rather to the color, make and model of his car.
Several days earlier, the store had reportedly received "suspicious calls" shortly before four people got out of a red Chevy Tahoe, with dealer-issued plates not registered to that vehicle, in front of the store and approached the locked door before leaving. Henson drove to the store in a red Chevy Tahoe with dealer plates, which he received through an endorsement deal with a local Chevrolet dealership.
"It's unfortunate that I came at a time things were happening to the store, but I think steps could have been taken to prevent what happened," Henson said. "Somebody could have come to the door and said, 'Can I help you?'
"I might have a watch and we might not be talking about this. It's one of those things that could have been prevented. The owner took ownership of what he needed to do to fix his polices, and I'm happy to hear that."
Bucks coach Jason Kidd said he was proud of Henson for the way he handled the situation.
"It's a great life lesson for everyone," Kidd said. "For our young team, for our city, for our state; it's something for us to learn from. Everybody makes mistakes; nobody is perfect. For the owner to come and apologize to John, personally, was a step in the right direction. It's an issue worldwide, not just here in Milwaukee. We have to do a better of job of addressing it and also learning from it. Our guys here have learned a life lesson at a very young age."
Despite Dixon's contrition, some members of the local community saw Henson's treatment as emblematic of a larger issue of inappropriate treatment of, and prejudice against, African Americans in the area:
Trevor Cole and his two roommates set up shop Tuesday — a card table and three signs — outside Schwanke-Kasten Jewelers in Whitefish Bay to protest what they believe was an incident of racial profiling by store employees the day before. [...]
On Tuesday, the three young men from Milwaukee took turns holding three signs that read "Honk If Black Lives Matter," "Be the Change," and "Social Justice for All."
Cole and friends Robert Herrick and Ethan Klein made it clear they were not asking for a boycott of the store. They want to spur an ongoing conversation in Milwaukee and the suburbs about prejudice and racial profiling, Cole said.
"I want that dialogue," Cole said.
So, too, does the Milwaukee branch of the NAACP, which issued a statement Wednesday describing the incident as not only "wrong, unlawful and unacceptable," but also "reflective of underlying biases and perceptions that need to be challenged and addressed if we are serious about providing equal opportunity and access to all."
In the recent matter involving Schwanke-Kasten and Mr. Henson, the victim of the profiling happened to be a professional athlete, a prominent member of a major organization with high visibility both locally and nationally. In this instance, Schwanke-Kasten was very quick to offer a “closed door apology.” However, we know that these types of incidents occur often and usually involve individuals who are not in the public eye. In fact, the Henson matter is not the only incident of which we are aware involving Schwanke-Kasten. In these all-too-common occurrences, there are no apologies. The victim is just left to feel degraded and humiliated as Mr. Henson described.
Based upon the blatant nature of the racial profiling by Schwanke-Kasten in the Henson incident and the fact that we do not believe it is an isolated incident, a “closed-door apology” to Mr. Henson is not enough. Certainly, how this store and its employees handled this matter has affected Mr. Henson, but such an act also undermines and violates the humanity of all citizens. Schwanke-Kasten needs to take some bolder measures to demonstrate its clear acknowledgement of wrongdoing and serious commitment to change. There is a need to take more meaningful measures to overcome these prejudices and biases in our metropolitan area and State, and to demonstrate to the community that serious actions to redress such matters are being taken.
For their part, the Bucks organization — while calling Henson's experience " incredibly upsetting and frustrating" — seems content with Dixon's efforts to make amends and eager to move forward. From a team statement released Tuesday:
We appreciate the store owner reaching out to apologize and meet with John in person. It’s important to us that he sees the kind of character John Henson has. John is a terrific teammate and player, and prides himself on being a good role model in the Milwaukee community.
While this illustrates a very real issue in our society, we know this incident isn’t reflective of the entire Milwaukee community. John is very appreciative of the support he has received from fans and community members across the state, and we’re all looking forward to putting that support behind something positive and getting back to basketball.
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