In a video that has gone viral, Tom Austin asks a group of Somalis what office they work at and adds: "I'm calling 911 now."

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A white Minneapolis man has lost his office lease after a group of Somali entrepreneurs in Minneapolis said he racially profiled them at a private gym in a video that has gone viral.

The group, which runs Top Figure, a social media consulting firm based at WeWork’s coworking space in MoZaic East building in Uptown Minneapolis, posted a video on its Instagram page and Twitter accounts which garnered more than a million views.

In the video, a man frantically takes photos of the Somali men inside the gym at the building on Lagoon Avenue. The man later identifies himself Tom Austin and says: “I’m a tenant in the building. Are you?” 

Austin, the managing partner of F2 Group, spearheaded a campaign that objected to the renaming of Lake Calhoun to its original Native American name Bde Maka Ska. Calhoun was a former vice president and vigorous supporter of slavery.

The incident occurred in a tense atmosphere in Minneapolis. It came a day after the killing of George Floyd, a black man, by a white Minneapolis police officer. A bystander filmed Floyd’s last moments as help saying: “I can’t breathe.”

Floyd’s death led to protests Tuesday night, some of which turned violent. 

In the video clip, the group told Austin that they are tenants of the building. He asks the group what office they work at and adds: “I’m calling 911 now.”

In a phone interview with Sahan Journal, Austin disputed the characterization of the video.

He said he began talking to the group after he noticed them using one key card to let everyone in and out.

“I thought that was very strange, because if you are a tenant you know that you can’t go to the gym without a pass card and you can’t get out without a pass card,” Austin said. “I said, “Hey, are you guys all tenants here?”

He said he called building security, and not the police, when he noticed most of them didn’t have a pass card.

“I have been trying to do the building manager a favor because they sent an email, ‘please don’t let people use the facility that shouldn’t be here,” Austin said.

He said he ended up working out with the group for 45 minutes.

“I still don’t know if they all had fobs,” he said. “Frankly, at this point, I don’t care because I should have never said anything in the first place.”

“I’m not what the video came to be conveying,” Austin added. “The video is awful, but it’s too late now.”

Austin has confirmed to Sahan Journal that he had lost the lease for his company at the MoZaic East building.

“Mob rule wins,” he wrote in an email.

In a statement posted on its Instagram page, Top Figure group said the incident occurred Tuesday at around 8 p.m. inside the building’s shared gym. 

“Normally we don’t speak out about encounters of racial profiling and age discrimination that we face day to day in our lives as young black entrepreneurs,” the group said. “As we were working out this man approached and immediately asked us who we were and if ‘WE BELONG’ in this building.”

Top Figure said all tenants of the building must have a key card to enter every part of the building.

“We all pay rent here and this man demanded that we show him our key cards or he will call the cops on us,” the group said. “We are sick and tired of tolerating this type of behavior on a day to day basis and we feel that we had to bring light onto this situation.”

The incident also comes on the heels of another highly publicized incident in New York’s Central Park involving a white woman who called police on a black man after he asked her to keep her dog on a leash.

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Mukhtar M. Ibrahim

Mukhtar M. Ibrahim is the founder, editor and executive director of Sahan Journal, a nonprofit news organization that covers immigrant and refugee communities in Minnesota. He oversees the organization's...