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Eating While Black: Homeless Man Spends Months in Jail After Trying to Eat at Burger King

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Eating While Black: Homeless Man Spends Months in Jail After Trying to Eat at Burger King

Emory Ellis, 37

Emory Ellis, a homeless Black man living in Boston, was hungry one morning in 2015, so he decided to stop at Burger King to get some food. But instead of a hot meal, he got a one way trip to the police station and over three months in jail after being falsely accused of using counterfeit money, he says.

Now Ellis is suing the fast food franchise for just under $1 million, saying the staff discriminated him based on his appearance.

The lawsuit follows a slew of recent cases regarding Black people having police called on them that have prompted claims of racial profiling.

Ellis’ lawyer said the cashier probably wouldn’t have doubted the money was real if a White man in a suit handed him the same bill. Even if he did, the cashier likely would have offered an apology and said he couldn’t accept it rather than call the police, attorney Justin 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,” said Drechsler, a White man.

A spokesperson for Burger King Corp. said there is zero tolerance for racism “of any kind,” but is not at liberty to discuss the specifics of the case. The company said it is the responsibility of the franchise owner to train employees and handle the location’s legal matters.

Two Guys Foods, Inc., the franchisee, didn’t immediately respond to WBUR’s phone message on Wednesday. A point of contact for the cashier, who’s also named in the complaint, could not be located and it wasn’t clear if he has legal representation.

Ellis’ lawsuit, the story of which was first covered by Law360, was submitted this week in Suffolk Superior Court. He’s suing the company for $950,000.

Ellis was taken into custody in November 2015, and ultimately charged with forgery of a bank note. The arrest violated his probation and he was held without bail until his last probation violation hearing, the lawsuit says.

After the Secret Service determined Ellis’ bill was real, prosecutors dropped the forgery charge. This, however, did not occur until February 2016 — more than three months after his arrest.

According to the lwsuit, 37-year-old Ellis never received a refund.

“Nobody deserves to be treated the way that Emory was treated,” Drechsler said.

In the weeks leading up to the lawsuit, two Black men at a Philadelphia Starbucks and other similar cases have brought mass coverage on minorities’ dealings with police.

Starbucks says its staff will undergo racial-bias training after an employee called police on the Black men because they hadn’t bought anything.

And at Yale University earlier this month, a White student called campus police about a Black graduate student who had fallen asleep while working on a paper.

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