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Owner says lockdown scenario had ‘nothing to do’ with skin colour

Photo by Remi Yuan

When most of downtown Ottawa went into lockdown Wednesday after a gunman killed a soldier at the War Memorial then stormed Parliament Hill, Abenezer Abebe says he was stranded on Laurier Avenue East because he was “betrayed by a fellow Canadian.”

Abebe, a third-year University of Ottawa commerce student, said he was on campus when he found out his 11:30 a.m. class was cancelled. He was on his way to the Rideau Centre for lunch when he was notified the downtown core was under lockdown.

He said he looked for a building to take shelter and wound up at the Second Cup on Laurier shortly before noon. He tried to enter the shop but wasn’t allowed in.

“I realized this was a lock down so I didn’t persist,” he wrote in a blog post that evening.

Moments later he became “infuriated.” Abebe, who describes himself as a 6’2 black man, said he was locked out because of the colour of his skin.

“Right after I turned to walk away, a few other people, who happen to be caucasian (sic), knocked and were allowed to enter,” he wrote. He tried to enter again, but a man locked the door. He later entered Morisset Library where he remained for the rest of the lockdown.

Chad Richardson, the owner of the coffee shop, confirmed he was the man who led the lockdown.

“I remember him being one of the only people who actually got visibly upset,” said Richardson.

“Race is the most important thing here that he’s accused of us, which has nothing to do with the decisions we made,” he said. “There was no interaction, there was no verbal communication … there wasn’t any physical contact.”

Video footage shows an individual, who Richardson identified as Abebe, try to open the door at 11:52 a.m. Soon after, Richardson opens the door to a white man in a suit, who he identified as a long-time patron named John, and locked the door behind him. Abebe then tried to enter the shop again. Richardson said by that time he had walked away from the door and didn’t see Abebe return.

“John’s been coming to the cafe for the whole length that I’ve been here, I think almost 10 years now, once a day,” said Richardson. The man is later seen chatting with Richardson and a staff member.

Abebe took to his blog later that night with a post titled “Betrayed By a Fellow Canadian.”

“I wanted to lash out and let the guy know I wouldn’t tolerate this from him,” he wrote, “but I hesitated as I considered what the narrative would be for a 6’2 black man banging at the door of a coffee shop in the midst of a man hunt.”

The coffee shop resides in the Hyman Soloway residence building, but the university clarified that the business isn’t operated by the school.

Abebe’s blog post has been shared by more than 500 people, and he told the Fulcrum that many have since reached out to him.

“Many shared with me their struggles with racism and discrimination,” he said, while others “wanted to let me know I was lying, or being selfish for talking about myself during a time of great distress for the nation.”

Abebe said the blog post wasn’t meant to blame any individual person, but to make a bigger point.

“I was reminded that racism is still alive and there is still a fight to be fought,” he said, “but it is clear from the wide reception of my blog post that we are winning the battle.”

Richardson said he found Abebe on Facebook and sent him a message to explain his side of the story.

“I want to reach out to him. I would love for him to come in,” said Richardson, adding that he sat in the store Thursday and answered questions about the incident. “There’s been great feedback from a lot of the students, of all races, that came to see me … and wanted to ask my side of the story.”

Abebe said he had not received Richardson’s message but called him once he was notified that Richardson wanted to speak to him. Richardson said they had a brief but positive conversation and the two have arranged to meet in person.