A white Minneapolis venture capitalist, who threatened to call the police on a group of black entrepreneurs for using the gym facilities of an office complex on suspicion they are not tenants, has had his office lease terminated.
In the video that was shared on Instagram on Tuesday by Top Figure, a Minneapolis-based social media and branding agency that is run by the black entrepreneurs, the white man, identified as Tom Austin, can be seen asking the men how they gained access to the gym and if they were tenants of the Mozaic East office complex.
“I’m Tom Austin,” he was heard saying in the video. “I’m a tenant in the building. Are you?”
The black entrepreneurs, who share a WeWork co-working space in the building, and as such are tenants, are allowed to use its facilities, including the gym. At the time the video was shared, Austin’s company, F2 Group, had an office in the building, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
The men, who replied in the affirmative, were further asked by Austin to confirm their office, but they refused.
“So we have an office here and this guy came accusing us we can’t be here,” one of the men faced the camera and said, to which Austin responded by once again demanding to know the office they are in. After their refusal, Austin said: “I’m calling 911 then.”
Austin, according to the Tribune, called the building’s property manager to report the men. In the next video slide, he can be seen on the phone making a report while one of the men said: “As you guys can see, we’re dealing with racism here.”
Sharing their agitation in the post, the men said they are “sick and tired of tolerating this type of behavior on a day to day basis.”
“We’ve been in this office space and have rented and grown our business for the past 1 year and half here,” they captioned. “As we were working out this man approached and immediately asked us who we were and if “WE BELONG” in this building. Granted in order to enter the building you NEED a key card to enter EVERY part of the building which EACH of our team members individually have. We all pay rent here and this man demanded that we show him our key cards or he will call the cops on us.”
In the aftermath of the incident, the building’s owners terminated Austin’s office lease. Austin, in an email to the Tribune, said he should have handled the situation differently.
“Not my job to have done anything,” he said, adding that his actions were not racist, and he only reacted that way because he suspected the men weren’t tenants after he saw one of them using his key fob to allow the others access the bathroom and other doors.
He also claimed the group became “aggressive” after questioning them. He said a maintenance person later came to the gym and spoke with the men before leaving.
Responding to the incident, Stuart Ackerberg, the CEO of the company which owns the Mozaic East building, said he was already left heartbroken by the George Floyd incident when he saw the video of what happened in his building.
“My heart hurts,” he told the Tribune. “This is not how we do business. …I’m alarmed by what I saw.” He also confirmed the accused men “had every right to be there and to use that amenity.”
“I shared with him [Austin] that I did not think it was handled well and there are other ways to go about this. It’s unfortunate. Our goal is to create a safe and inviting experience for everybody.”
This incident comes in the wake of the ongoing tension in the city after the death of George Floyd, the African-American man who died after a Minneapolis cop knelt on his neck for several minutes during an arrest on Monday, despite the victim pleading he could not breathe.