The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)
Racist incident at CT Wendy’s disgusting, thankfully it didn’t end worse
PLAINFIELD — The Wendy’s where a heated young manager police say admitted he had slung racial slurs around like they were Jr. Bacon Cheeseburgers the previous night sat empty shortly before 3 p.m. on Friday.
I stood there for a minute sipping a large lemonade among the unattended tables before walking around the outside of the fast-food restaurant. There were two cars at the drive-thru and one lingering stench of racism. All I could think about was how it could have been much, much worse.
The Wendy’s stands near the Exit 29 ramp off northbound I-395, a stone’s throw from the old Plainfield Greyhound Track, a convenient location for family travelers, dedicated advocates of casino gaming and everyone under the New England rainbow. Living only a few miles away, I frequent the place at night after filing columns in New York, Hartford and places in between.
Never saw a problem. Almost always get the chili.
This is where Brett White, a 22-year-old white man, works. Or, rather, used to work until he was fired Friday for refusing to serve the Woodstock Academy basketball team and ordering the two Black coaches to leave, according to a police statement. Specifically, he told them, “Get out F-word, N-word” the head of school at Woodstock told me.
If a woman hadn’t called 911 about the refusal of service and use of racial slurs …
If the Plainfield police hadn’t acted professionally in handling the situation, charging White with second-degree breach of peace …
And, especially, if coaches Donte Adams and Denzel Washington hadn’t maintained their composure and dignity …
As disgusting as it was, yes, this could have ended up even more horribly.
“Very scary moment,” Washington told Fox 61, “because we’ve seen so many times, where people that look like us, we’re not able to conduct these interviews after.”
The Woodstock Academy team was returning from a 45-41 loss at Ledyard on Thursday
night when the bus pulled over shortly before 10 p.m. The Wendy’s is a halfway point on the ride home from ECC games near the shoreline and Woodstock teams often stop there for something to eat. Students at the school come from miles south of Woodstock, Head of School Chris Sandford said, so it also gives parents a chance to pick up their kids there.
Closing time is midnight. It’s right there on its website.
“It was open when they got there,” Sandford said. “The drive-thru was open. People were eating when the team got there.”
This is a scene repeated all over America every night. Young athletes pile out of a bus, in this case a dozen of them, and pile into a restaurant. There are some players of color on the team.
“The kids run into the store and the manager starts going after them, not with racial terms yet, but we’re “f-word closed … not dealing with f-word buses tonight,’” Sandford said. “The kids were like, OK, this is weird. We usually stop here. As they started to go out, the coaches came in behind them.
“The coaches initially thought the kids had done something wrong. They were like, ‘What happened? There are people here. You’re closed?’ That’s when he yelled at them again and this time he started throwing in the N-word. Out of the blue. That’s the part that’s most egregious.”
Washington told Fox 61, “Instantly as soon as we get inside, the manager just turns away and was just like ‘F this, I’m not dealing with this (crap) tonight,’ and then walks to the back. We know that there was a lot going on when we arrived, there was an accident that was just clearing up in their driveway and everything else.”
Debate on social media has been active over whether or not the Wendy’s was preparing to close early on Thursday night.
Certainly there could have been stressors for a young manager.
No stressor should have caused him to go off on a racial tirade.
Sandford said the coaches tried to get the manager’s name and he refused, so the plan was to return to Plainfield on Friday to file a police report. After the woman called 911, the police immediately arrived.
Plainfield has had its share of racial incidents over the years. In 2014, a fight broke out between New London football players and some home fans after alleged racial taunts. In 2020, a Plainfield woman was arrested for allegedly screaming racial threats at a Black woman at a Norwich Starbucks drive-thru.
Both incidents received considerable state news coverage.
As a resident of 34 years, do I think Plainfield is a racist town? I think Plainfield is a hardworking town. Racism is everywhere in America and in Plainfield’s case I do not believe it is widespread. I do think there is a small number that hands down narrowminded thinking from generation to generation.
What happened at Wendy’s could further damage a town’s reputation. Yet here’s the thing: White isn’t from Plainfield. He lives in Canterbury. On his Facebook page, he identifies himself as being from Killingly and attending Killingly High.
“This is an unfortunate event,” Sandford said. “I don’t think it means an entire community should be painted with broad brushes. It was an individual who responded that way. And the Plainfield police did an awesome job.”
You start with racial slurs and emotions immediately skyrocket. A fight easily could have erupted. What if any of the kids jumped in?
What if the police arrived in the middle of a fight and mistakenly thought one of the kids or coaches was the aggressor? This is 2023 America. We don’t need a runaway imagination to understand what could have happened.
Good, too, for Inspired by Opportunity, the franchise organization that owns the Plainfield Wendy’s, for wasting no time.
“Inspired by Opportunity has zero tolerance for racial harassment or discrimination,” its spokesperson said. “We condemn this manager’s conduct as completely inconsistent with our values and have taken prompt and immediate action. The manager is no longer employed with the company.”
A cynic may say they were merely covering their Bacon Double Stack. A realist would say the right thing is the right thing. White, out on $10,000 bond, will get his day in court on Feb. 21.
All the time, the coaches said in a statement and repeated in television interviews, their first concern was the welfare of their student-athletes. That’s why they got the players back on the bus. That’s why they wanted White to know he shouldn’t be yelling and cursing at the kids, because they planned on returning to eat in the future.
They didn’t deserve to be called a racial slur. No Black person does. It’s abhorrent.
There have been three fights at high school games in Connecticut in the past month, two outright brawls, and a fourth fight before another game. In Vermont, a man died after a fight at an eighthgrade game.
The common theme was players and/or spectators did not control their emotions in the moment. People reacted badly. People reacted violently.
Two coaches from Woodstock Academy reacted another way.
“I give testament to who they are as individuals,” Sandford said. “I’m very proud of them as Head of School. We’ve been working very hard as a community in the area of diversity, equity and inclusion the last couple of years. Talking about it, recognizing situations. I think this is an example of why we do that work.”
Both coaches work at the school and live on South Campus. Adams is a paraprofessional. Washington is director of DEI. A Division II All-American who played pro ball in Mexico, Adams was assistant coach of the prep team that drew some of the nation’s top players. The school discontinued the program this year. Adams became the varsity head coach.
“While I am angry and devastated over this incident,” Sandford said earlier Friday in a statement. “I could not be more proud of our coaches and student-athletes. These coaches are building fine young men who are going to change the world.”
Dr. King once said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” And what did Hemingway write? “Courage is grace under pressure.”
Those words fit Donte Adams and Denzel Washington well today.