Rashsaan Muhammad and Mattie Khan were waiting for their order inside Little Big Burger on North Mississippi Avenue when they noticed a woman standing across the street, looking at their parked car.
"She looked odd, but it didn't alarm us," Muhammad told the Mercury in a phone interview. Only when the African American couple had their to-go bags and were walking back toward the car did they sense something was up. According to Muhammad, the woman was on the phone when they reached the car. Khan said she could hear the woman describing their vehicle and reading off the license plate number.
"I tried to start a conversation, I asked her who she was calling and what was going on," Muhammad said. "It was clear she was talking to the police." (It was not clear, however, if she knew the couple was Black before making the call.)
Update: According to a source close to the woman (who asked to remain anonymous), she was on the phone with Portland Bureau of Transportation's parking enforcement hotline—not the police.
That's when Khan began recording the interaction on her cell phone. In the video, the woman looks up at the camera and points at the car. "You can't block the crosswalk," she says. "Look at this. You are!" She told the couple that she lived in the neighborhood.
The video doesn't show much of the car, but it's clearly sticking out an inch or two in front of a curb where a crosswalk begins. Muhammad said he knew the space was a tight fit when he parked, but knew it wouldn't take him more than 10 minutes to pick up their order.
"She didn't try to talk to us. She just called the police," Muhammad said. "Why would people spend the time just trying to make our lives harder instead of talking it out like neighbors?"
While it's very possible the caller didn't know the car was owned by an African American before calling the police, the video joins the long list of viral clips we've seen this past year of white women calling the police on people of color over minor violations—whether its for using a charcoal grill in a public park or for an eight-year-old girl selling water in public without a permit. Most recently, a white woman called the police after seeing a black man babysitting two white children in Georgia.
After thinking it over a few days, the couple decided to post the video on Facebook.
"It's part of a bigger problem that we as a community need to address," Muhammad said. To him, the interaction was less about the color of his skin and more about lack of communication and empathy in a changing neighborhood.
"New people come in and change a neighborhood and it causes these kind of stressful situations," he said. "We don't interact with each other they way we used to."
Muhammad was born and raised in Portland, and Khan moved to town when she was nine years old. Both grew up in the North Portland neighborhoods surrounding North Mississippi Avenue—and still live there.
"We've watching this city change," said Muhammad. "And we can't let this keep happening to our community."
Portland, meet "Crosswalk Cathy":