“It’s despicable how she wasn’t protected,” Florida Attorney Michele Rayner-Goolsby said of the incident that her client, Yasmine James was forced to endure.
If you do not know James’ name, you are probably well aware of her story. A video that went viral earlier this week showed the brave 20-year-old McDonald’s employee fending off a 40-year-old white man who decided to attack her and drag her across the fast food establishment’s counter.
James told ESSENCE in an exclusive interview that she was working while trying to figure out her schooling, as she has dreams of becoming either a social worker or a registered nurse. She’s torn, she quipped, because she loves the “caring aspect of both jobs.”
However, James was forced to take care of herself when her assailant, identified as Daniel Willis Taylor attacked.
Although James’ swift and immediate defense of her person drew applause and praise, all that was going through the young woman’s head was to try and get her assailant off her, not knowing what her attacker was capable of.
“I was scared,” James told ESSENCE. “I didn’t know what he was going to do. I didn’t know if he had a gun or knife.”
“So when he grabbed me, in my mind I was just like ‘get off of me.’ My thing was to just get him off of me the best way I could because I didn’t know what he was going to do to me,” she added.
All of this, over a straw apparently. James told said that Taylor increasingly became irate, demanding that she do her “f-cking job,” as he grumbled about the lack of a straw. James tried to explain that she was required, by law, to keep straws behind the counter and only give them out via request.
The straw issue, is in fact, part of St. Petersburg, Fla.’s new policy to ban single-use plastic straw, with a full ban going in effect by 2020. For now, through the year 2019, establishments will only be able to give out straws by customer request.
But Taylor refused to back down, and, according to James, started to curse and threaten her. That was when James demanded that he leave. Ultimately the situation escalated into what was shown in the viral video.
A McDonalds’ employee in St Petersburg Florida appeared to have been assaulted by a customer who she bravely fought off. Follow us for more updates as we learn more about this story. pic.twitter.com/Ftv3B2zjhM
— Atlanta Black Star (@ATLBlackStar) January 2, 2019
In the video, Taylor can be seen lunging at James and grabbing her by the collar of her shirt, pulling her halfway across the counter. James tugs back and starts slinging punches repeatedly, in an attempt to get Taylor off her.
“No one, especially a woman of color, should have to go through this at their place of business. No one should have to do it,” Rayner-Goolsby told ESSENCE. “That shows that we can’t even do the daily task without being attacked.”
After fellow employees separated the two, the manager could be seen strolling up to Taylor, presumably in an attempt to figure out the problem, rather than demand that he leave. Taylor even had the gall to demand that James be fired.
James does recall her manager not seeming to have any procedure or protocol in place to handle the aftermath of the altercation.
“I was just really upset,” she told ESSENCE. “No one knew what to do. They didn’t know if to go back to work, they were just shocked and I think there should be something in place for things like that.”
“It makes you feel very alone,” she added of the fact that Taylor was allowed to remain in the building even after the incident. “I didn’t know if he was going to attack me again.”
“I am not only physically hurt, but I am emotionally hurt that I was left to defend myself even as I was surrounded by my co-workers and other bystanders,” she added in a news release. “I am so grateful for the outpouring of support I have received from all around the country.”
To make matters worse, according to Rayner-Goolsby, James was the one who had to contact law enforcement herself, as no one at her workplace saw fit to do so. And come to find out, Taylor, according to the lawyer, had already called law enforcement and reported that he was the one who was being “attacked by black people.”
He was only arrested after law enforcement figured out that that was not the case.
“She actually was the one that had to not only defend herself but then call law enforcement to make,” Rayner-Goolsby emphasized.
McDonald’s released a statement to ESSENCE saying that they “share the community’s concern and are taking this disturbing incident very seriously.”
“Our highest priority is always the safety and well-being of everyone in the restaurant, and we do not condone violence of any kind, especially against our employees,” the statement continued. “We firmly stand with our employees everywhere, including our employees at this restaurant who were involved in this incident.”
But James, is currently on leave, with Rayner-Goolsby slamming the decision in the release noting, “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.”
When asked about James’ leave, a spokesperson for McDonald’s Corporate Communications told ESSENCE that “Given the nature of the situation, we offered Ms. James paid time off until Sunday.”
As for Taylor, he is currently facing two misdemeanor counts of simple battery, but to James, that is simply not enough.
“The guy who did this to me he only has misdemeanors? That’s crazy. That’s not fine. He should have felonies, not misdemeanors,” she said. “What he did was no misdemeanor. He pulled…he tried to yank me like I was in a video game or something.”
Rayner-Goolsby is currently working with another Black female lawyer out of Florida, Shannon Ligon, to make sure James has the best representation possible.
“Someone told me “black women always come to each other’s rescue.” My colleague and friend Shannon Ligon (@thatsmylawyer) of @prettysmartlaw has joined the team and I’m honored to work with her and I admire her tenacity!,” Rayner-Goolsby wrote in a post showing the three women together.
Right now the possibilities are open, with Rayner-Goolsby acknowledging that her team is still conducting an investigation.
“I don’t want to get into what claims we’re hoping to bring,” she acknowledged. “We’re still doing our own investigation but at the very least it’s despicable how she wasn’t protected.”
“Yasmine is just tremendous and we’re just so glad that it did not escalate to the point where he had a weapon,” she added. “I’m glad that she’s here to be able to lend her voice to this.
“I am aware this type of violence happens to women, especially Black women, everyday. For me, this was ‘the last straw,” James noted in the release. “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.”