When it comes to the ways we interact with society, there are a lot of things we take for granted. We expect to be treated with basic decency and respect by the strangers that we interact with, especially in situations where we’re spending our money.
But if there’s one thing that’s true in this world, it’s that for all our lofty ideals about all men being equal in the eyes of God and the law, different types of people are treated in very different ways. Just as in The Prince and The Pauper, the very rich and the very poor may as well be living in two different worlds…
It was a November morning in Boston when Emory walked into a Burger King. Like every other customer in the store, the 37-year-old man was there because he was hungry and while it may not be the healthiest way to start the day, breakfast at a fast food restaurant is nothing if not quick and inexpensive.
Emory went to the counter, placed his order, then handed the cashier a $10 bill, just as millions of other people would do around the country every single day. But this time, it would result in the kind of treatment no other Burger King customer would have to deal with…
Rather than handing him a receipt and moving on to the next customer while his food was prepared, the cashier stopped and took a close look at the bill. Emory was surprised when the cashier accused him of trying to use counterfeit money.
Being treated differently from most people wasn’t exactly unfamiliar to Emory. He was a homeless person, which meant he was used to people looking down on him or thinking he was up to no good, whether or not they had any cause to…
Fine, I’ll Go
But in this situation where he was just trying to buy a meal like everyone else, it came as something of a shock. Still without any food in his belly, Emory was willing to just take his $10, all the money he had to his name, and leave. If this Burger King wasn’t willing to treat him with respect, he would get his breakfast elsewhere.
But as a further shock and insult, the restaurant refused to return his money and instead called the police. Emory stayed there, trying to talk sense into the cashier and the rest of the staff and at the very least give him back his money until the police arrived…
Check It Yourselves
When they did, he tried to explain the situation to the officers, even imploring them to look at the bill. He was sure that the officers could recognize a real $10 bill when they saw one. He was astounded to find that not only did the officers believe the bill was fake, they arrested him on the spot.
Instead of starting the day off with a hot meal, Emory Ellis was starting it off with a ride in the back of a squad car. He was taken to central booking station and charged with forgery of a bank note, a crime that can carry a life sentence…
On top of the hefty jail crime he could be facing, the arrest would have an even more harmful impact on Emory’s life than it might have for another person. That’s because it triggered a probation violation for him, which meant he would be held without bail until his final probation violation hearing.
For over 3 months, Emory Ellis was locked up behind bars until the bill in question made its way to the Secret Service, the arm of the justice system that deals with counterfeit money. When they inspected the bill to determine if it was real or not, their investigation proved what Emory had been saying all along, the $10 bill was real…
Free and Clear
The prosecution admitted that no crime had been committed and the charges against him were dropped. A judge also subsequently determined that there’d been no crime, thus no probation violation and Emory was released from jail.
Still Not Right
But just because he was out of jail, everything wasn’t automatically right with the world. Emory had lost over 3 months of his life to this foolishness, not to mention being subjected to the fear of being locked away for the rest of his life. As an icing on the cake, he didn’t even get his $10 back…
Emory secured the services of a lawyer to get some sort of restitution for the way he’d been treated. He secured the services of a lawyer called, Justin Drechsler, who filed a lawsuit against Burger King, the cashier, and Two Guys Foods, Inc. which was the franchisee.
3 Months Gone
The complaint said that Emory suffered “public humiliation and shame, sleeplessness, anxiety, and depression” because of his arrest and incarceration. “He’s expressed to me many times how much it sucks to lose 3 months of your life,” Drechsler said…
The suit alleges that Emory was discriminated against because he appeared unkempt and seeks damages for civil rights violations, defamation, theft of Emory’s money, and compensation for the months he spent in lockup. In total, they were seeking $950,000 in damages…
Though their lawsuit did not say that Emory was discriminated against because he was black, his attorney, Drechsler suspected that Emory’s race was a factor, combined with his disheveled appearance. He said that if a white man in a suit such as himself had handed the same $10 bill to the same cashier on that same day, there would never have been a question of its legitimacy.
It Would Be Different
Even if they were, he said, the cashier would probably have apologized and said he couldn’t accept the money and it would have ended there. The police never would have been involved, Drechsler said…
“A person like me would’ve gotten an apology, but a person like Emory somehow finds his way in handcuffs for trying to pay for his breakfast with real money,” the attorney added. “People will say, ‘He was homeless. Who cares if he went to jail for 3 months,’” he added…
“And even when you negotiate with these insurance companies [for the franchisee], they’ll say, ‘Well, he didn’t lose any wages.’” Drechsler continued. “He lost his g**damn freedom! You think wages mean anything?” Two Guys Foods offered Emory a $10,000 settlement but was turned down. “We didn’t think that was nearly sufficient,” Drechsler said. “$10,000 is a nuisance money offer.”
Not About Money
Still splitting his nights between friends’ couches, shelters and, when there’s no other option, the street, this isn’t about the money for Emory. “Acts of discrimination, subtle and not so subtle happen every day and most of them don’t see the light of day because most of them don’t result in any consequences,” said Drechsler. “If Emory was in it for a quick buck, he would have just taken the $10,000. How many homeless people do you know that would turn down that money.”