SOUTH LOS ANGELES — Tommy Walker was not prepared for what happened when he arrived at the local Little Caesars pizza store at 27th Street and Western Avenue recently to pick up his pizza.
“I had ordered the pizza online and I was looking forward to watching the baseball game between the Dodgers and the Washington Nationals with my friends,” said Walker, who added that he had ordered a Hawaiian pizza with pineapple and slices of ham.
“The pizza was in a kiosk and you had to punch in a code to get the pizza,” said Walker, 59, a substance abuse counselor who works in the San Fernando Valley. “This was the first time I had ever ordered a pizza like that.”
Walker said that the code had been sent to his email but that he didn’t have email on his cell phone.
Frustrated, Walker showed one of the employees his driver’s license, hoping it was enough proof to help get his pizza.
“But the employee refused to get it out. You can clearly see that it was my pizza,” I told her, showing her my receipt.
She seemed to have an attitude and snapped, “We’ll give you your money back.”
Then the pizza maker in the back room suddenly came out and said, “Give the [N-word] his pizza so that he can get out of here.”
Walker said the pizza maker reached into the kiosk and disgustedly threw his pizza on the counter.
Walker said he went into shock.
“I cried, ‘Did you just call me [the N-word]?”
The pizza maker said, “You made me mad.’”
“I couldn’t believe it. I asked the other employees if he heard this guy call me the ‘N’ word and he said he heard the guy admit it.
“At that point, I wanted to speak to the manager,” Walker said. “She came out and said, ‘We have to give you your money back’” and then she retreated to the back room.
“I waited another 30 to 40 minutes for her to come back out, but she never did,” Walker said.
“I talked to all the employees in the store about it — there were about four of them. I wanted to further discuss this insult but I was ignored.”
Walker said that there were no other African Americans in the store.
“The customers listened to the exchange with me and the employees but they never reacted,” Walker said.
Wanting justice, Walker called the police. “But they never showed up,” he recalled.
“I went home,” said Walker, who said he immediately threw the pizza in the trash. “I wasn’t sure if the pizza maker had spit on the pizza or done something else with it,” he said.
“My friends asked me why I had thrown the pizza in the trash and what had taken me so long to come from Little Caesars. I told them that they had called me the ‘N’ word in the store and they all became really upset. My girlfriend was absolutely furious.
“Right then and there, we decided to go online and to type a complaint and email the complaint to the corporate office of Little Caesars pizza in Detroit,” Walker said.
Walker said he was determined not to let the incident slide.
“I started putting together what I was going to do because I wasn’t going to let it just go by,” he said.
Walker recorded a video about the incident and posted it on his Facebook page.
“Then I decided to organize a protest. I got my Facebook friends, members of my family, my friends, church members and community activist Najee Ali to stage a protest in front of the store.
“About 30 of us showed up at Little Caesars Oct. 15 at 5 p.m. chanting and waving homemade signs. We marched into the store with a video camera to talk to the manager.”
Ali said he was incensed when he heard about the incident involving Walker.
“I was outraged and I was determined to help lead the protest in support of Tommy,” Ali said. “I had a list of demands that the managers and the employees involved in the incident should be fired and that there should be sensitivity training at that store. We will not allow outsiders who operate businesses in the black community where we spend our money to disrespect us by calling us the ‘N’ word. We will shut them down.
“The manager called the police. Then he went to the back of the store and never returned. The police arrived and went to the back of the pizza store and talked to the manager.
“We marched out of the store and the manager immediately locked the doors. The store was closed down for the rest of the day.”
Walker called the Little Pizza corporate office had received an email.
“I called corporate on Oct. 18,” he recalled. “Someone at the corporate office answered and said, ‘How are you doing, Mr. Walker?’ They saw that my complaint was all over Facebook because by then it had been viewed by 50,000 people. Najee Ali also made a video and posted it on his Facebook page which got about 15,000 views.”
“The representatives in the Little Caesars corporate office said that they were glad I called. ‘We have been trying to get in touch with you,’ Walker recalls them saying, even though he claims he had never received an email from the corporate office.
“We just want to let you know that we fired everybody in that store and we apologize for the way you were treated,” said the Little Caesars representative.
Ali said he felt the firings were justified.
“This is a major victory for the black community and it sets an example for all black people,” Ali said. “If we are being disrespected in the nail shop, restaurant orany type of business, we should stand up and demand respect like Walker did.”
Walker added, “No matter who you are, you should never let anybody call you out of your name or treat you in a negative way and not respond to it.”
When asked if he would ever order a pizza at Little Caesars again, Walker vigorously shook his head.
“No, I’m done. I just can’t believe that this happened in 2019,” he said.