The man who led the campaign to "Save Lake Calhoun" from its name change to Bde Maka Ska is at the center of a viral video in which he is accused of profiling a group of black entrepreneurs.
The video, which has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times after being shared to Instagram by Team Top Figure, a social media consulting firm based out of the Mozaic East building at 1330 Lagoon Avenue.
Tom Austin – a venture capitalist who runs the F2 Intelligence Group – denies any allegation of racial profiling, claiming the group of men had been letting people without authorization enter the gym,
In the video taken in the MozAic East gym, Austin identifies himself and says he's a tenant of the building, before asking the men: "Are you?"
He also takes photos of the men, and when they explain they are tenants, Austin replies: "What office are you in? I'm calling 911 now."
The video then cuts to Austin on the phone to somebody, saying there's a "whole bunch of people who don't appear [inaudible]." He tells BMTN he was speaking to building security.
In its Instagram post, Team Top Figure wrote: "Normally we don’t speak out about encounters of racial profiling and age discrimination that we face day to day in our lives as young black entrepreneurs.
"Granted we’ve been in this office space and have rented and grown our business for the past 1 year and half here. As we were working out this man approached and immediately asked us who we were and if 'WE BELONG' in this building. Granted in order to enter the building you NEED a key card to enter EVERY part of the building which EACH of our team members individually have."
Austin disputes group's version of events
In an email to BMTN, Austin refuted Team Top Figure's version of events, claiming that "several of these guys were trespassing and using a private gym that was authorized only for building tenants."
"Seems like nobody cares about the complete truth," he said.
"One of the tenants brought 4 friends and I complained to them that this isn’t right and it's unfair to the tenants who pay," he said. "They got in my face in a very threatening manner and I threatened back to call building security.
"I would have done this regardless of race. So this is bullshit."
He later sent an updated email to BMTN in which he admitted "I f----- up" but again denied that race was a motivation:
"Yes, I f----- up. Should have handled it differently. Building management had been complaining that tenants were allowing their friends to trespassing and use a private gym that was authorized only for building tenants. I noticed that one of the tenants seemed to have brought 4 friends and I complained to them that this isn’t right and it's unfair to the tenants who pay. One guy was letting his other 4 friends in and out of the building with his FOB. Nobody else had a FOB. When I said something, they got in my face in a very threatening manner accusing me of racial profiling. I said it wasn't racial profiling and was all about suspicious activity/behavior. Because they were in my face, I took photos and threatened back to call the building security. I actually only called the building property manager! I would have done this regardless of race. In fact, I told them I'd have done the same thing if they were white, or even a bunch of girls who were trespassing. What surprises me is that we worked out in gym together for another 45 minutes after I had already apologized to them for making them feel it was a race issue, when in fact it was not."
The incident comes in the same week as a high profile case in New York where a white woman called the police on a black man who was birdwatching and complained her dog was off its leash in a park where leashes were required.
Austin is listed as the CEO of F2 Group on its website. He came to prominence during the controversy over the renaming of Lake Calhoun to Bde Maka Ska, leading a group of homeowners on the lake to take legal action against the name change, which was ultimately unsuccessful
It comes after the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board pushed for the change back to its original Dakota name, noting that John C. Calhoun – for whom the lake was previously named – was a firm proponent of slavery.