Jacob Ladda's gone to the Midtown Global Market a lot in the four years he's lived in Minneapolis.
He's had a couple jobs working on Lake Street, and liked stopping in for Mexican food from Los Ocampo: "Muy bien," he says. Last week, Ladda hit the Lake Street hub to grab coffee with his girlfriend, Maddie. Some time during this hangout, duty called.
Ladda headed to the men's room.
According to Ladda, it wasn't long after he had entered a stall and sat down that he noticed a man's head peeking up over the side of the stall, looking down at him. Seeing Ladda notice, the man pulled away. Then, Ladda says, the man looked back over again.
Once was bad enough, in Ladda's mind. The second look was a violation.
Ladda tracked down the man, an on-duty security guard for the market, and tried to figure out what the hell just happened. Ladda says he didn't realize his girlfriend Maddie had whipped out her phone to record the exchange.
Looking back on it now, Ladda realizes there are some "very humorous" moments, just because the conversation (or lack thereof) is "so ridiculous." But in the moment, he was furious.
"My name's Bill," the guard, then purchasing a Diet Coke, tells Ladda.
"Your name's Bill," Ladda says. "And it's your job to look over the door to see who is pooping. To watch me poo-poo."
"Yes," Bill says.
Then, when another guard steps in, Ladda turns the questions on her: "I don't want any problems with [the other security guard] at all. But do you want to be stared at while you're pooping?"
"Honestly?" the woman begins. "No."
Finally Ladda gets to speak with the security guard's manager, and asks for paperwork to prove that checking activity inside stalls is company policy.
"Sir," the manager says, "this is private property."
Ladda: "It became un-private property when I'm watched pooping."
Soon after, Ladda and Maddie were escorted out of the building. She uploaded the video to Facebook, where it's been seen and liked by many friends, some of whom offered similar stories of similar experiences at Midtown Global Market. Others took their case directly to the building, emailing or leaving comments on its Facebook page to draw attention to Jacob's issue.
Building management didn't make Jacob wait long. Mike Temali, CEO of the Neighborhood Development Council, and Atum Azzahir, director of the Cultural Wellness Center (the two non-profits in charge of Midtown's operation) reached Ladda directly, and invited him in for a meeting. Temali watched the video Maddie recorded before the customers came back to the building.
Though the video only represents Jacob's side of the story, Temali summed up his overall reaction in two words: "Not good."
"I would've loved to have seen a lot more of a conversation between security and Jacob," Temali says. "I'm not a lawyer, I'm not in the security business. But it sure seemed to me, there could’ve been a much more human and reasonable interaction, and an acknowledgment right away this was upsetting to Jacob."
Temali and Azzahir offered at least that much during their meeting with Ladda and his girlfriend, which they say went for two hours. (Temali started the meeting saying he recognized Ladda from protests outside the governor's mansion after the police killing of Philando Castile; Temali had "run over there at 4 in the morning" to deliver a thermos of coffee to protesters.)
Temali and Azzahir told Ladda the security guards he'd interacted with weren't employed directly by Midtown Global Market, which contracts that out to a company called Securitas.
Temali also says he explained why guards have reason to be wary of suspicious activities in the bathrooms, which are open to the public, and open "really long hours." The complex has had myriad instances of drug and alcohol use occurring there, a potentially dangerous or disruptive presence that threatens customers' experience and could harm the entrepreneurs' businesses.
"Balancing privacy and dignity, versus trying to maintain a safe and comfortable place, has been a challenge," Temali admits.
Midtown is review its handling of the bathroom situation in light of Ladda's experience, says Temali, who added he hopes their openness was enough to keep Ladda coming back as a customer.
It was: Ladda says being invited back for a meeting that was handled "very respectfully" did the trick.
"That's all it took," says Ladda, who added that if security management had handled it differently, and not removed him from the building, he "wouldn't be talking" about the problem now.
But they did, and now Ladda's considering legal action against Securitas. That's no small target: The Swedish-based global security corporation employs 300,000 people, 85,000 of them in America. Ladda has been in contact with an attorney to discuss his options.
Ladda, a 31-year-old artist (tattoos, sculpture, painting, performance; he recently finished a residency at the Kenwood School elementary) says his uncomfortable moment in that men's room returned him "horrible" experiences he suffered growing up in foster homes. Ladda is mixed race, and suffers from cerebral palsy, and thinks the way he looks and moves made him more of a target for the guard's snooping.
"It was very organic, I felt so violated," Ladda says of the video Maddie took. He added: "The level of security in our society, and the structures, are inhumane, and show a disregard for humanity."
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