He saw something, said something but nothing happened

Jack Reuler is a theater director and a friend of mine, and he’s frustrated to the point of incoherence because he can’t get anybody to listen to him.

Last fall, Reuler saw a guy accosted in a bagel shop and hustled out the door by a pair of men who called him racial epithets and demanded that he give them something of theirs. This was in daylight, in view of other customers, staff and security cameras.

Reuler did what any of us would like to think we’d do, if we saw a fellow citizen abducted by bad guys: He tried to help. He sprang to his feet and demanded to know whether the bagel shop staff had called 911.

Uh, well, sort of. They’d called, but then they told the operator that the emergency was over, because the bad guys had left the shop.

“With one of your customers!” Reuler wanted to shout. Instead, he dashed from the shop and jumped in his car. He tried to follow the victim and his abductors, but lost them.

Reuler called 911 on his cell phone and was told a squad car was on its way. Frantic by now, he saw a police car parked near a convenience store with a cop behind the wheel. Reuler rapped on the window, explained the emergency and asked for help.

The police officer, sitting in a marked car and wearing a uniform, replied that he was engaged in an undercover assignment. He rolled up his window.

A career in the theater has given Reuler familiarity with absurdist drama and should have steeled him for the events that followed.

First he went back to the bagel shop, where the manager said he’d done as he was trained to do in such situations. Reuler asked to speak to the branch manager, and was told he’d be there the next morning.

When Reuler returned the next morning, the branch manager defended the shift manager’s actions and asked a question that seemed designed to drive Reuler nuts: Were these guys black? Or Somali?

Now, the theater Reuler directs is Mixed Blood, whose mission is to live out Martin Luther King’s dream in a theater setting. There is no stage in the Twin Cities more reliably dedicated to racially conscious casting and to serving a diverse, multicultural and multiethnic audience.

“Are there different policies for black and Somali customers?” he asked.

The district manager watched the security tape and tried to suggest that the abduction hadn’t happened. Reuler insisted that it had. The district manager referred him to the regional manager. The regional manager dodged his calls and offered to meet in two weeks. Eventually the regional manager referred him to the vice president for human resources. In Texas.

Police at the Third Precinct referred Reuler to Missing Persons at the First Precinct. Reuler didn’t know the name of the missing person, or even whether the person was really missing. Police at the First Precinct declined to help. Reuler contacted the Minneapolis Civil Rights Department, which told him he couldn’t make a claim about an offense that had happened to somebody else. A civil rights attorney he consulted told him the same.

Thinking that the media might be able to help determine what had happened to the young man, he sent his story to two prominent Twin Cities columnists. No response.

Weeks passed, and Reuler was left to wonder. What had become of the young man?

He thought about Mark Andrew, a white civic leader whose mugging at the Mall of America quickly became a major news story. He thought about how society springs into action when an AMBER alert goes out. He imagined how different the response might have been if the bagel shop abductee had been a young white woman instead of a young black man.

“I have devoted a lifetime to promoting successful pluralism in the Twin Cities,” Reuler said, “and, sadly, learned a profoundly hard and unwelcome lesson.”

We should not imagine, he said, that we’re any better or more enlightened than people in Ferguson, Missouri, where the kind of justice you get may depend on your “race, class and probably gender.” The same is true here, he said, more than he’d realized.

I’m telling the story here because I’d like answers to two questions: Does anybody know who this young man was, or what became of him? And if Reuler did the right thing by trying to help, why does everybody act like they wish he’d go away?