The arrests of two, black teenage girls inside a Converse Whataburger last Friday after an unrelated fight occurred outside the restaurant has sparked protest from the community. Some, including many involved in the local #BlackLivesMatter movement, believe that the Bexar County Sheriff’s deputies who arrested the girls that night did so unnecessarily and brutally.
The incident, which involves 17-year-olds Vanae Wright and Leilani Green, was recorded by spectators inside the establishment, and the viral video has since had more than one million views on YouTube. (See video above.)
Munirah Small, who is a close friend of Wright’s mother, Toni Campbell, told the Rivard Report Saturday that the girls went to the Whataburger at Walzem and FM 78 after a Judson High School football game. When the fight broke out outside around 11 p.m., Whataburger management ordered everyone to leave the restaurant but told the two girls that they could stay inside and finish their meals since they had just received them. After that, Small said, they would have to leave.
Wright was sitting down at a table and consolidating her food into a box when Bexar County Sheriff’s deputy Cynthia Hernandez and other deputies entered the restaurant and walked over to her. Green had gone to refill the girls’ drinks and they intended to leave when she returned.
Hernandez told Wright that she needed to leave, and – as shown in the video – proceeded to knock Wright’s food off the table and handcuff her. Green then approached and put Wright’s hat on her head, as she requested, but Hernandez took the hat off and a male deputy took Green with his arms around her and, after she calmed down, handcuffed her.
Hernandez can be heard telling Green she is being arrested for interfering with arrest.
“Now you know better, right?” Hernandez asked Green, who replied, “Sure.””
“I never refused to leave,” Wright said at a press conference in front of the Bexar County Sheriff’s office Wednesday. The girls’ families and lawyers held the conference to speak out against their treatment. “Never did I say something disrespectful.”
Small, who wasn’t at the scene that night but was told details by Campbell and Wright, told the Rivard Report that no one involved in the fight outside the Whataburger was arrested and there still hasn’t been an arrest.
“(The deputies) show up outside, where there’s a fight going on, and they walk straight past all of that and they go inside,” straight to Wright, Small said. “They don’t even know who was fighting in the parking lot.”
Small said that on the way to the police car Hernandez whispered in Wright’s ear: “You f—– with the wrong b—-.”
Wright’s and Green’s families have hired lawyers and will file a lawsuit against the sheriff’s office, Small said. In addition, they are working on a thorough investigation of the incident, and are requesting video surveillance footage from Whataburger to get a better idea of what happened. Bexar County officials told the Express-News that they are working with Whataburger to get that footage.
One of the families’ lawyers demanded the sheriff’s office to release video footage from the body cameras the deputies were wearing that night, and that if they weren’t wearing one then the community deserves an answer to that, too.
Small and Daryl K. Washington, another one of the families’ attorneys, said that they’ve been told that Hernandez has committed similar offenses before. Mike Lowe, organizer for grassroots organizer SATX4, demanded to have Hernandez’s prior offenses and disciplinary action revealed and to be fired from the sheriff’s department.
He also demanded Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Calvert (Pct. 4) and Bexar County Sheriff Susan Pamerleau to make a public statement on the issue and on what disciplinary action – if any – Hernandez will receive. Small said as of now she believes Hernandez is still on active duty service.
The Bexar County Sheriff’s office released a statement on Facebook Wednesday in response to the criticism it received after the video was released. Some critics asserted that the arrest was racially motivated.
“The arrest of these two teenagers has nothing to do with racial profiling, the majority of people at the restaurant were of the same ethnicity as the two young ladies,” the post stated. The post went on to say that there were more than 100 people at the restaurant when the fight broke out.
Neither of the two girls or their families have said that they think the incident was racial profiling. The Facebook post also stated that some people on social media have made death threats to the department, which Small denied.
When Campbell arrived at the scene to pick up her daughter and asked Hernandez and other officers where she was, the officers told her they didn’t know and wouldn’t answer any other questions, Small added.
It wasn’t until Campbell received a text from Wright saying she was in the patrol car, and other students in the area reported seeing Wright in that car, that Hernandez “backed off,” Small said, and the officers told Campbell she could follow them to the Magistrate’s Office downtown.
The girls were released Saturday morning from jail, Small said, after their parents paid thousands to bail them out.
Green is facing charges for interfering with an arrest and resisting arrest, and Wright is facing a criminal trespass charge. Both girls also are banned from stepping foot inside that Whataburger, since the restaurant’s management issued criminal trespass notices to them this week, Small said, even though management told Green and Wright the night of the incident they could stay and finish their food in the restaurant.
When Small caught wind of the incident that following Saturday, she called some friends who she thought would be able to help the families. One contact spoke with an official in the Sheriff’s office that day, Small said, who said that the girls’ charges would be dropped and that, essentially, all of this would blow over.
“But once the video went viral, all of that changed,” Small said. “The next thing we know, Whataburger is not answering any questions at all. They’re deflecting everything to the sheriff’s office.”
Green, Wright, their families, and others outraged by the videotaped arrest are leading a charge to boycott Whataburger and are demanding a public apology from the restaurant chain.
“I know what kids who have something to hide or lie about look like,” Small said. “These girls are not those kinds of kids.”
Both Wright and Green said at the Wednesday press conference that they have maintained good grades and have participated in a number of extra curricular activities throughout high school. Neither of them have ever had problems with police or authority before, Small said, and both have college plans – Green plans to one day attend law school, and Wright has plans to attend business school. Having the charges on their records could make fulfilling those plans difficult.
“We just want to see this handled and taken care of,” Small said. “The greatest atrocity of all is that it’s their senior year in high school and they should be having fun, not sitting on a global stage having people prod and pick at them.”
Top image: A YouTube video of Venae Wright (left) and Leilani Green (right) being taken into custody at a Converse Whataburger went viral since many believe they were wrongfully arrested. Screenshot from YouTube video.