ST. PETERSBURG — The first viral video of 2019 was sparked by the city's impending ban on plastic straws, escalated into violence and ended with a forceful display of self-defense.
It started at about 6:50 p.m. Monday, when Daniel Willis Taylor was looking for a plastic straw at the McDonalds at 4595 34th St. S. on New Year's Eve. Taylor, 40, was irate there were no straws available in the dining room. That's because last month the City Council voted to require customers to ask for single-use plastic straws in 2019 and ban them altogether by 2020. This McDonalds seems to have complied a bit early.
Taylor was standing at the counter, screaming at 20-year-old employee Yasmine James (all he had to do was ask for a straw.) Then the video shows the 5-foot-7 man reaching across, grabbing her uniform collar and pulling the smaller woman over the counter.
James, however, not only defended herself but quickly gained the upper hand. The video shows her grabbing Taylor's collar with her left arm, pulling him to her end of the counter and then pummelling his face with her right hand.
Other employees were slow to react but eventually separated the two. The screaming continued.
"I want her a-- fired right now," Taylor said.
"No you're (going) to jail," James clapped back. "You put your hands on me first."
Police said Taylor was escorted out of the restaurant, but on his way out kicked another employee, Tateona Bell, 23, in the stomach while she stood by the door. That incident was not caught on video.
Alcohol was likely a factor in the incident, said St. Petersburg police spokeswoman Sandra Bentil.
"There was an indication that he was under the influence of alcohol," she said. "There was a strong indication there that he was drunk."
St. Petersburg officers were called to the restaurant and reviewed video of the incident. Then officers responded to a report of an unarmed robbery in the 1800 block of 34th St. S, where they recognized Taylor from the McDonalds' video.
Taylor, who is white, falsely told officers he had been robbed by a group of black people, Bentil said. He also said he couldn't remember what actually happened and did not connect the incident to McDonalds.
Taylor was arrested the day after his 40th birthday on two misdemeanor charges of simple battery. He was being held in the county jail late Wednesday in lieu of 1,000 bail. The arrest report described him as a transient.
The cell phone video of the incident hit social media and quickly went viral. James could not be reached for comment but her Facebook page was filled with supportive comments.
The St. Petersburg branch of the NAACP issued a statement calling for a review of the criminal charges in this case as well as the restaurant crew's "blatant disregard" for the safety of James, an African-American woman.
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"While Ms. Jones nor the family of Ms. Jones has not contacted the St. Petersburg Branch NAACP as this point we have determined that due to the severity of the unprovoked attack it is important that we launch an immediate inquiry into this matter," the letter said.
Not only did the video go viral online but so did a rumor that James was fired as a result of the incident. That is not true. She told the website Atlanta Black Star that she is still employed at the restaurant but is now on leave.
"He just started flipping out and cursing me out," James told the website. "I was like, 'You're being rude … Can you calm down?' But he just kept cursing me out."
She has retained Clearwater attorney Michele Rayner-Goolsby, who has taken on several high-profile bay area cases. She is the attorney for the family of Markeis McGlockton, the man fatally shot in a Clearwater parking lot in July that became the latest case to raise questions about Florida's stand your ground law. And she has represented the families of three St. Petersburg girls who died in 2016 after driving a stolen car into a pond during a police chase.
Rayner-Goolsby said the video serves as an example of a systemic pattern of violence against women, particularly black women.
"While (attacker Daniel) Taylor was arrested, the McDonald's corporation has yet to release a statement about the incident and has placed Ms. James on leave," Rayner-Goolsby said in a statement. "This case is a clear example of how white privilege and male privilege too often leave Black women alone to defend themselves in the face of harm."
Rayner-Goolsby said they have not taken any legal action but are "exploring all options."
James also released this statement:
"I am aware this type of violence happens to women, especially black women, every day. For me, this was 'the last straw.' I am committed to using this horrible experience as means to fight for justice, not only for myself, but for other women experiencing this kind of violence in environments where they should be safe and protected."
McDonalds did not return requests for comment.
James told Atlanta Black Star that her back and thigh were injured in the attack. She is treating herself with ice and ibuprofen because she lacks health insurance. James said she started working there two months ago, is saving for college and a car and wants to become a nurse.
And, James added, she can defend herself.
"My family, they know how to box," she told the website. "My big cousin used to box professionally … I just know how to fight. You know, I know how to protect myself."
Times staff writer Daniel Figueroa IV and Kathryn Varn contributed to this report. Jamal Thalji can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.