On Monday evening, a uniformed female police officer walked into an Alexandria, Va., Noodles & Company restaurant and joined the line, only to leave moments later, empty handed.
In this latest incident in which tensions between police and community members have migrated from protests to restaurants, the officer says she watched on as a cook told the cashier, "You better pull me off the line, because I'm not cooking for," gesturing to the officer.
The cashier laughed at the cook's comment, police spokeswoman Crystal Nosal told The Washington Post, prompting the officer to leave and call her supervisor.
“She was really shaken up by this,” Peter Feltham, the vice president of the International Union of Police Associations local 5, told local reporters.
Since Monday, Mr. Feltham and Police Chief Earl Cook have met with the store's management, which has apologized and launched an investigation, and suggested they had reached an understanding.
"Noodles & Company expects the highest ethical and personal behavior from its team members. We value each of our guests and are committed to treating everyone with dignity and respect. We do not tolerate any form of discrimination," the company wrote in a statement about the incident.
The restaurant plans to put up a sign in support of “Blue Lives,” Feltham told Fox5, and the store has reached out to the officer herself.
Similar incidents have sparked controversy in other communities as well.
In September, two police officers reported that they had been denied service at a Lewisville, Texas, Whataburger because they work in law enforcement. And just a month later, police in Hartford, Conn., complained that a Dunkin’ Donuts employee told an officer waiting in line, “We don’t serve cops here.” And earlier this month, Taco Bell fired an employee for refusing to serve policemen in Phenix City, Ala., after a sheriff's wife posted on Facebook about two of his colleagues' experience "being told that they don't serve cops."
Refusing service to police officers may be bad business, but it is not illegal, as employment is not a category protected under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination nationwide on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin in places of “public accommodation,” like theaters, restaurants and stores.
Still, such incidents are indicative of the tensions between police officers and community members rallying behind the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of a series of high-profile shootings of black residents by police around the country. In some cases, individuals have gone as far as to ambush police officers. Earlier this month, in attacks apparently fueled by anger at perceived disregard for the lives of black Americans among police, eight officers were killed by shooters in Dallas and Baton Rouge, La.
Such violent confrontations have prompted calls to formalize "Blue Lives Matter" protections into law. In May, for example, Louisiana, became the first state to extend the definition of hate crimes to include police.
Not all legal experts believe that hate crime laws are the appropriate method to protect officers, however. Some view the bills as "an attempt to muzzle law enforcement critics and to undermine efforts to curb the use of excessive force by police," as The Christian Science Monitor reported in May, while others argue the move could "weaken protections for those who have to endure ethnic, racial, and gender-based violence because of who they are."