Chili's Faces Backlash for Taking Back Free Meal From Black Veteran on Veterans Day

It all started when an elderly customer wearing a Trump shirt allegedly approached Walker and his service dog, then told the restaurant’s manager that Walker was not a veteran because he believed “no black soldiers” served in Germany and because Walker...
November 14, 2016, 11:00pm
Photo via Flickr user JeepersMedia

"You're questioning my service dog now? Now, you do know it's against the law—against HIPAA regulations—for you to question my service dog… Now you've questioned my military service and my service dog!"

Those are the first lines of a video filmed in a Cedar Hill Chili's that has already been viewed more than 306,000 times since being posted this past Saturday.

The video—which has sparked a growing online backlash against the chain—captures the moment in which a Chili's manager not only calls into question the military service of US Army veteran Ernest Walker, but actually takes away a free meal Walker received as part of a Veterans Day promotion in which the chain free meals to veterans and active military personnel.

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It all started when an elderly customer wearing a Trump shirt allegedly approached Walker and his service dog, Barack. Soon thereafter, the older man told the restaurant's manager that Walker was not a veteran because he believed "no black soldiers" served in Germany and also that Walker was "not a real soldier because [he] had [his] hat on indoors." The restaurant manager asked Walker to provide identification, and questioned him about his service. Eventually, they even took his food away—despite Walker having provided them with his military ID and discharge paperwork.

On Facebook, Walker wrote that the ordeal made him feel "grossly offended, embarrassed, dehumanized."

Since the video went viral, many have taken to Chili's Facebook to voice their disappointment at the chain and demand that they take disciplinary action against the manger in the video and offer Walker a heartfelt and direct apology.

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Kelli Valade, the president of Chili's, provided MUNCHIES with the following comment: "Today, we personally apologized to Mr. Walker for the unfortunate experience in our restaurant on Veterans Day and thanked him for his service to our country. We also thanked him for taking the time to speak with us and he appreciated our apology. Our goal is to make every Guest that walks into our restaurants feel special and we fully own that one of our restaurants fell short on an important day where we strive to honor our veterans and active military for their service. We took swift action and immediately removed our manager from the restaurant. We are now in the process of working with Mr. Walker on a resolution that promotes trust and healing."

Walker attributes the treatment he received at Chili's to a shift in the national mood following Tuesday's election. "I do believe that the election has changed the hearts and changed the motives of people so much so that he believed in his heart and mind after talking to the Trump supporter that I was stealing food," he said.

The treatment Walker received seems to fit right in with the many examples of hate crimes, harassment, and racist speech that have been reported of late. In a 60 Minutes interview, Trump finally told his supporters, "Stop it. If it—if it helps, I will say this, and I will say right to the cameras: 'Stop it.'"

Too little too late? Almost certainly, but only time will tell.