Taco Blue Fray

Did Chipotle workers in Brooklyn refuse service to eight uniformed NYPD officers?

Claim:   Employees at a Chipotle Mexican Grill in Brooklyn refused service to eight uniformed NYPD officers after making a "hands up, don't shoot" gesture to indicate their distaste for the policemen.


Example:   [Collected via e-mail, December 2014]

8 NYPD officers in uniform tried to eat at Chipotle this week on Montague St. in Brooklyn but were not served. As they walked in the crew put their hands up and said don't shoot. Such a disgrace. I'm never going to Chipotle again. Those officers deserve an apology and those employees should be reprimanded. Politics should have no place in a place of business.


Origins: On or around 25 December 2014, a Facebook post with the above-quoted text began circulating, claiming that eight uniformed New York Police Department (NYPD) officers were refused service at the Montague St. branch of Chipotle Mexican Grill on an unspecified date (presumably during or after widespread protests in New York City following a decision not to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Staten Island resident Eric Garner).

The already contentious debate regarding the NYPD, public protests due to the decision not to indict, and public sentiment both supporting and criticizing the NYPD became increasingly volatile following the murder of NYPD officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu on 20 December 2014. The targeting of Ramos
and Liu in the line of duty created a deeper rift in the city, and tensions were running high due to common sentiment that ongoing demonstrations had inspired the shooter (who had attempted to kill his girlfriend shortly before the murders) to ambush the slain officers.

The post that circulated about Chipotle employees' refusal of service to NYPD officers bore many of the marks of an appeal to emotion. While the location (Montague St. in Brooklyn) was specified, no date or time of the incident was mentioned. The poster's use of "last week" was vague enough that the claim could circulate in perpetuity, inducing those moved by the tale to believe the purported insult was recent and its dissemination topical.

Also missing from the claim were details about the alleged incident's progression. It's not clear in the narrative whether the employees collectively and simultaneously decided to engage in a protest action, nor whether the claim of denied service stemmed from a direct refusal on the part of the employees or a tacit lack of welcome inherent in the gesture allegedly performed. Neither did the story specify what "the crew" entailed: Was it every single Chipotle worker on duty, or just the ones manning the guacamole station?

Finally, the poster did not state whether he was present for the claimed refusal of service to NYPD officers or whether the information was received second or even third-hand. Without those details, it's very difficult to take the presented aspects of the tale at face value.

As the claim circulated, Chipotle's social media accounts were inundated with angry comments from supporters of the police who pledged never to patronize another of the chain's locations due to the rumor. A Chipotle social media representative identified only as "Joe" endeavored to set the record straight on both Facebook and Twitter despite a large volume of angry remarks.

Chipotle's response addressed a few pieces of significant context regarding the claim. On 27 December 2014, the Chipotle rep explained the incident in question had occurred two weeks prior to the rumor's circulation on social media sites. Notably, that meant that whatever happened preceded the tragic murders of Liu and Ramos on 20 December 2014. The chronological ambiguity of the claim (whether intentional or inadvertent) framed Chipotle employees as behaving insensitively in the wake of the tragedy, but that was unequivocally not the case.

On 28 December 2014 Chris Arnold, Communications Director for Chipotle, responded to our request for information about the controversy and stated:
On Dec. 16, a group of eight NY police officers came to one our Brooklyn restaurants at about 6:15 PM, and before approaching the counter saw a single Chipotle employee raise her hands in what appears to have been a spontaneous, unplanned gesture of protest directed at the police. The group of officers then left without ordering food. In no way was this statement from our employee consistent with our culture and values. Quite the contrary. We work very hard to make all of our customers feel welcome in our restaurants.

Since being notified of this incident, we have conducted a review to determine what happened, including review of video footage from security cameras and interviews with our restaurant team. We have also taken appropriate actions with regard to the employee involved, and reiterated to our operations teams the importance of making all of our customers feel welcome in our restaurants. No exceptions. Finally, we have apologized to many of the people who have contacted us regarding this issue.

Above all, we apologize to the officers involved. We serve law enforcement officials in our restaurants around the country every day, and we appreciate their service.

Quite simply, this incident should never have happened.
In short, Chipotle reviewed video footage of the NYPD officers' visit to the Montague St. location and determined that what transpired involved not "the crew" of that outlet but a single employee who acted alone and has since been reprimanded. Chipotle has explicitly stated the behavior of that employee was neither condoned nor ignored (although they have not yet offered specifics of how the issue was handled). Chipotle confirmed that the eight NYPD officers were not denied service but rather left the restaurant of their own volition.

Last updated:   28 December 2014

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