'We don't serve police': Why officers turned away from Whataburger

Two police officers say they were denied service at the popular southern fast-food chain in Lewisville, Texas because they work in law enforcement. Does this represent a growing sentiment against the police?   

Eric Gay/AP
This July 9, 2015 photo shows a Whataburger restaurant in San Antonio, Texas.

They thought it was a joke, but the cashier wasn’t laughing.

Two police officers say they were denied service at a popular southern fast-food chain in Lewisville, Texas because they work in law enforcement.  

While taking a break from working overnight traffic security at a construction site, Officers Michael Magovern and Cameron Beckham entered a Whataburger to grab something to eat.

Officer Magovern says before even ordering, an employee told him, “We don’t serve police officers.”

They ate at Dairy Queen instead.

After its Facebook page was flooded with complaints, Whataburger says it is investigating the claim:

“This is 100% not what we stand for at Whataburger and it would never be acceptable to refuse service to a police officer. We want to address this as soon as possible with any parties involved so we can reach out and make this right,” a spokesman for the company told KDFW, the channel 4 Dallas-Fort Worth Fox News affiliate. 

Later, Whataburger issued a statement saying that the employee had been fired:

"We were appalled to hear of an employee refusing service to two officers, as we have proudly served first responders across our system for decades. As soon as we heard of this isolated incident, we began our own internal investigation overnight. The employee that refused service is no longer employed with Whataburger. We've also invited the officers back today so we can apologize in person and make this right."

According to KTVT, channel 11 CBS news station, the officers plan to meet with Whataburger executives on Wednesday.

While Officer Magovern says he still plans on eating at the fast-food chain, Officer Beckham expressed concern to Fox Channel 4: “It really strikes a nerve personally and professionally because maybe he's joking or maybe he's not, but how do we trust that individual or that company to cook anyone's food now.”

On a grimmer note, recent high-profile police killings have led some to believe there is a seismic-shift in the perception of law enforcement, creating a dangerous environment for police. Some pundits have even said it’s “open season” on police officers.

In 2014, two New York City Police Department officers were killed in Brooklyn by Ismaaiyl Brinsley. An Instagram post by the assailant indicated the shooting was revenge for the police killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.  

In August, Deputy Darren H. Goforth of the Harris County, Tex., Sheriff’s Department was gunned down while pumping gas. The motive was unclear, though the suspect, Shannon Miles, was declared mentally incompetent to stand trial in a 2012 aggravated assault case, subsequently spending time in a mental hospital, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Harris County sheriff Ron Hickman grieved at a news conference for his fallen officer, though also criticized the rhetoric coming from the Black Lives Matter movement:

“At any point when the rhetoric ramps up to the point where calculated, cold blooded assassinations of police officers happen, this rhetoric has gotten out of control. We’ve heard ‘black lives matter.’ All lives matter. Well, cops’ lives matter, too. So why don’t we just drop the qualifier and just say ‘lives matter,’ and take that to the bank.”

But activists say that qualifier is necessary to highlight the notion that currently, black lives are not being valued.

Statistics on police killings can be inconsistent because of the lack of data collected on such incidents, but a 2014 ProPublica analysis showed young black men are 21 times more likely to be killed by police than white men:

“The 1,217 deadly police shootings from 2010 to 2012 captured in the federal data show that blacks, age 15 to 19, were killed at a rate of 31.17 per million, while just 1.47 per million white males in that age range died at the hands of police.”

The analysis also showed that 14 of the 15 teens shot while fleeing arrest from 2010 to 2012 were black. In 77 percent of the deadly shootings where the circumstance was classified as “undetermined,” the deceased were black.

According to the National Law Enforcement Officer Memorial Fund, which tracks police fatalities, 64 law enforcement officers have been killed this year. That’s a three percent increase compared to this time last year, though the leading cause of death is traffic accidents. Firearm fatalities have actually dropped by 22 percent.

Indeed, as The Christian Science Monitor reported, Atlanta Police Department beat cop Barricia McCormick says she watches her “six” – or rear – a little more diligently. She spends more time than usual working on her tactical training. But in this city of gilded skyscrapers and chicken-and-waffle joints, Officer McCormick, who joined the police in 2009, says she has only really noticed an increase in one type of citizen interaction: the sympathetic smile.

I don’t think it’s us versus them,” says McCormick, who served as an officer in Texas before joining the APD in 2011. “Yeah, the media might have some people looking more closely at police and wondering. But the fact is, I get thanked more now than I did before, and I have people coming up to me just randomly telling me to be safe out there, stuff like that. And I know it’s related to what’s going on nationally, because when they approach me they usually mention something they heard on the news.”

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