• U.S.
  • Maine

Somali Refugee Says Dunkin’ Employee Called Police Because She Talked in Her Native Language

4 minute read

A Dunkin’ franchise owner apologized to a young Somali woman and her family after a store employee called the police on them for speaking in their native language at a drive-thru in Portland, Maine.

Hamdia Ahmed, 20, says she, her brother and mother went to a Dunkin’ they often frequent for coffee after a long morning on Monday. While waiting to place their order in the drive-thru, Ahmed says the family was having a conversation among themselves in Somali when an employee on the microphone refused service and threatened to call the police.

“We’re having our own talk. All of a sudden we hear someone say, ‘Stop yelling. You’re yelling in my ear. I’m calling the police. I’m not taking your order,'” Ahmed tells TIME. “They never tried to take our order. She was like, ‘You can leave, or I’m calling the cops.'”

Ahmed says she parked the car and walked inside the store to confront the employee. When she asked the employee why she threatened to call the police, the employee said the family had been yelling and called Ahmed “agitated.” The employee eventually called the police, as people in the Dunkin’ started siding with Ahmed, she says.

Afraid police might follow her to her home, Ahmed says, she decided to wait for them to arrive at the Dunkin’ location. After giving her account of the incident to a police officer, Ahmed received a no-trespass notice that bars her from returning to the store for a year.

Ahmed asked the officer what she had done wrong, to which he responded that sometimes, the drive-thru microphones can seem loud and cause misunderstandings. He told her businesses have the right to place a trespass on anyone “even for no reason,” she says. Representatives for the Portland police department did not immediately return a request for comment.

Ahmed, an activist and student at the University of Southern Maine, posted a video of her experience at the drive-thru on Twitter. The video does not include the exchange Ahmed had with the employee, only part of the argument that followed between the women. Ahmed can be heard asking: “You’re gonna disrespect me ’cause I speak a different language than you? Is that what it is?” The employee responds, “It has nothing to do with your language. You can leave. I don’t want to hear it. I’m done with it. You can leave or I’ll call the cops.”

The incident went viral. A corporate representative from Dunkin’ reached out to apologize to Ahmed, she says. And on Wednesday, the Dunkin’ store owner Dave DaRosa met with Ahmed to apologize again and promise “some sort of training” for his employees. DaRosa did not immediately return a request for comment.

Dunkin’, which this year dropped the “Donuts” from its original title, Dunkin’ Donuts, confirmed the meeting between DaRosa and Ahmed in a statement Friday.

“Dunkin’ and our franchisees are committed to creating a positive customer service experience for all of our guests,” the company said. “The franchisee who owns and operates the store has confirmed he has met with the guest, sincerely apologized to her for the poor experience and is working on providing additional customer service training to his store crew.”

The experience, Ahmed says, traumatized her and her family. Ahmed says her brother, who is older than her, waited at McDonald’s to avoid a police encounter because he was “terrified as a black man in America.” Her mother said she’d seen stories in the news of police being called on black people, but never expected it to happen to her. “She was like, if this country is like this, then where do we go?”‘ Ahmed says.

What Ahmed wants now is accountability for people whose first instinct is to call the police on black people.

“Change is the first step. Even if I wanted those employees to be fired, I know those people are working to survive. I understand,” she says. “There needs to be accountability, whether it’s training or whatever it is to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

More Must-Reads from TIME

Write to Mahita Gajanan at mahita.gajanan@time.com