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Profiled or Just Disrespected? (Article 1 originally published September 11, 2003)

Alan W. Sorter speaks to a friend at the mall in his weekday attire. (Photo by Ray Thornton)

How I learned that clothes make the man and determine the respect from mall security

By Alan W. Sorter
President & CEO
Freedom Media Group, Inc.

It was not the kind of treatment I’d come to expect.

As president of the company that now owns the Columbus Post, I’d left my office in downtown Columbus dozens of times since coming to Columbus in May to go to City Center Mall, grab a bite to eat and watch the shoppers. I’d sit in the same second-floor spot, eat, chat on the phone and study the buying patterns of mall shoppers.

And nobody would ever say a thing. No merchants. No customers. And certainly no mall security officers.

But that all changed this past Sunday.

This time as I sat eating my dinner and talking on the phone, a mall security officer named N.L. Droll – flashing his badge and flexing his muscle – approached me, said he’d gotten a call from a merchant about a “suspicious” and “loitering” man, and asked me to leave the mall.

I couldn’t believe my ears.

Shocked and insulted, I told security officer Droll that I was not loitering and that I was actually in the mall having dinner, watching shoppers and praying with a friend on the phone.

Non-plussed, security officer Droll replied that I’d been in the mall too long and that if I did not leave peacefully, I’d be escorted out.

I couldn’t believe this was happening to me. Not today. Not after having graduated from one of America’s most prestigious universities. Not after 25 years as a newspaper executive. Not after having worked with some of the nation’s richest and most powerful executives. Not in 2003.

But it was happening. I was actually being profiled.

I was stunned, humiliated and yes, angry!

“Welcome to Columbus,” I thought.

In the newspaper business, you constantly hear stories of young black and Latino men being harassed by insensitive officers. And, I must admit, there are times when you start to wonder about the veracity of such stories.

So, maybe I just need a reality check. Or a wake-up call.

“How could this be happening to me?” I wondered. Then I realized that on this day as I sat eating dinner, watching shoppers and sharing a “word” with a friend on the phone, I was not sporting a business suit, but a jogging suit.

That thing about clothes making the man had suddenly become real for me.

And that’s when I started getting angry – and things started escalating. I told security officer Droll that I did not appreciate his tone or his demand, that I was not loitering and that I did not plan to go with him anywhere.

Droll then got on his radio and called for backup. The next thing I knew his supervisor, Sgt. Tim Crouch and two Columbus police officers named Shepard and Simmons showed up.

I explained to them what I was doing, that I wasn’t bothering anyone and did not deserve the treatment I was getting. The officers showed little interest in my side of the story. They simply said I had been told to leave the mall and that they had been called to escort me out.

So there I was being escorted out of the City Center Mall like a criminal. I could not believe it. One moment, I was on the phone praying a friend through troubled times, the next I was being kicked out of a mall that I frequent to make purchases and study ways my newspaper can help the mall increase its sales traffic.

But the ordeal didn’t stop there.

After being escorted from the center by mall security and by Columbus police officers Shepard and Simmons, I was speaking with a man named Mitch outside the mall when security officer Droll walked up to me and said, “You have to get off the steps and away from the mall.”

We clearly had moved from profiling to overt harassment.

I told security officer Droll to leave me alone; instead, he got back on his radio and summoned the same two Columbus police officers, Shepard and Simmons. A split-second later, I heard a siren, looked around and saw Columbus police officers Shepard and Simmons pulling up on High street just outside the mall.

Concerned that things were about to get out of control, Mitch and I started to walk up High street towards State when security officer Droll called me back and told me that the police officers wanted to talk to me.

As I turned around and walked backed to the police wagon, I wasn’t sure what the officers were about to do. Officer Shepard got out of the van and as I started to tell him that Mitch and I were standing on the steps “outside” the mall having a conversation, Shepard said, “You were told to leave the mall by them (security), so leave!”

When I asked Shepard why Droll had come outside to harass me 10 minutes after I’d been escorted from the building and the mall had closed, he replied: “They don’t need a reason, they can do anything they want. They are mall security!”

Faced with such obvious logic, I felt it was best to leave.

I guess it just doesn’t matter whose you are, who you are or what you do for a living. There are just some people in our society who will always think they are better than others. And with a badge and a gun, some actually think they’re God!

In my nearly 30 years in business, most of which I’ve spent in the newspaper industry, I’ve dealt with lots of conflicts like this that involved other people. But when you see that conflict up-close and personal, in addition to feeling angry and humiliated, it reminds you just how far we have to go as a society.

Sorter said he’ll call for a meeting this week with Mayor Michael Coleman, Columbus Police Chief James Jackson, the head of City Center Mall Security, and the head of City Center Mall Management to discuss the incident.

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