A white Minnesota venture capitalist who threatened to call police on a group of young black men using a gym in a shared work building lost his lease and his position as CEO after a video of the encounter went viral.
In the video posted Tuesday night, Tom Austin, then-CEO of venture capitalist firm F2, accused the men of not being tenants of the building, which is part of a WeWork coworking space, and asked for proof of their membership after saying he saw one of them use his key card to let others in the group inside.
The gym, which is not part of a WeWork space, allows WeWork members access.
When they refused to meet his demand, Austin threatened to call police, but instead reached the building's manager, who sent janitors to verify the group's membership.
Three of the men in the group — Abdi Hassan, 24, Salman Elmi, 24, and Zak Ahmed, 22 — told BuzzFeed News they've been tenants for over a year in the Mozaic East building in Uptown Minneapolis, where they run their e-commerce marketing agency, Top Figure.
"It was a very sad incident that happened, you know, at our own office space, where we should be chilling comfortable, safe and hustling," Hassan said.
"We work out there like all the time and four of my colleagues were there before me and they were working out and this individual came after and I came last," Hassan said. "And as soon as I came in last, it set him off or something and he demanded that everybody show him key cards."
He added: "We felt threatened, he started invading the privacy of my colleague here, as you can see in the video, Zack's telling him 'Back up, dude.' Because he's literally in his face like this. And that's when we brought the camera out."
The men added that they’re glad they recorded the incident because they were worried no one would believe them.
In an automatic email reply to media inquires on Wednesday, Austin acknowledged he had handled the situation poorly, but denied racism played a factor.
"Yes, I fucked up. Not my job to say anything or question potential trespassers," he wrote. "I was in a bad mood before I even got to the gym and handled the situation poorly. Was oblivious to the perception that my actions could be perceived as racist."
In his email, Austin said he noticed that "one of the tenants seemed to have sneaked in his 4 friends and I complained that this isn’t right."
He also said he defended his actions at the time as being nothing to do with race.
"I told these guys that I'd have complained even if they were white, or even a bunch of girls who were trespassing," he added.
The video comes as Minneapolis is grappling with public anger and protests after the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody.
The group of men said they are thankful to everyone who has been supportive and sent messages that they belong.
"The thing that really hit home for us was the way he was talking on the phone, saying that we don't belong, who appear that they don't belong, which is definitely talking about our appearance," Ahmed said.
This article was updated to clarify the relationship between WeWork and the gym.