Black Couple Win Lawsuit After Claiming Police Profiled Them In Their Own Store

A California city has agreed to pay $150,000 to Yema Khalif and Hawi Awash, a Black couple who said they were racially profiled when police asked to them prove they own their clothing boutique. The coupled, who filed a lawsuit last year, said they were working late at the store when a Tiburon police officer entered the building in August and asked them to identify themselves. 

Khalif and Awash argued with officers, saying they didn’t have to prove that they have the right to be in their own downtown boutique, Yema. 

“The officer should have knocked, introduced himself, and explained he was patrolling Main Street,” Awash said, according to KTVU. “But instead it was more like, ‘Who are you? And prove yourself.’”

A neighboring business owner eventually resolved the conflict, confirming that the couple own the store. The police department later faced backlash when video of the incident went viral. A police sergeant resigned amid the backlash.

Khalif and Awash filed a $2 million suit for alleged emotional distress and potential loss of revenue, as well as punitive damages. In addition to rewarding $150,000 to the couple, the  settlement now calls for reforms, including a new citizen’s police advisory panel.

As Blavity previously reported, Awash and Khalif received threats in 2020 as the nation was awaiting the results of the presidential race. The perpetrator went to Instagram to reveal plans about destroying Yema, the city’s only Black-owned store at the time. The post included a photo of the store.

“If Biden wins me and the boys gonna go raid yemma,” the person wrote. “4:00 on Election Day show up.”

Awash and Khalif, two immigrants from Ethiopia and Kenya, received support from the community after their encounter with police.

“We’ve gotten support and love and people speaking up to say this is not right, this is wrong,” Awash said. “Working while black is not a crime, and many people are standing with us, and that’s the conversation we need to have, let’s change the perspective.” 

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