Hotel denied him a room “because of how he looked,” during a blizzard, called police, sent him to a homeless shelter
By Tasion Kwamilele
Joe Debro, a prominent Oakland businessman and builder who also serves as the Chair of the Housing Assistance Council, a $60 million dollar organization, was denied housing at Washington’s Marriott Hotel, just a stone’s throw from the White House. The Marriott staff told Debro there was no room in their inn because he did not look the part.
Even though the hotel employees saw Debro’s suitcase and plane ticket, they summoned the police who gave Debro two options, go to jail or go to a homeless shelter.
Debro chose to spend the night in a homeless shelter.
When Debro arrived in Washington, D.C., in the middle of a snow blizzard, after a late-night “redeye” flight from Oakland, he could not find a taxi. Wearing only a knit cap, a white t-shirt, and an overcoat, Debro rode the subway and walked five blocks to the hotel. Debro said the Marriott clerk would not check him in. Assuming Debro, by his appearance, was a homeless man, she disregarded his ID and debit card.
“I’m not surprised because this is the D.C. tradition. If you’re dark you’re treated one way and if your skin is light you are treated completely different,” said Debro.
Debro stayed in cell phone contact with his wife during the ordeal. She suggested he call his friends Congresswoman Maxine Waters and Congressman Bennie Thompson for assistance but he refused. Instead, he continuously tried to prove his identify to the clerk, but she would not believe him,”
After the police arrived, they gave Debro the option of leaving the premises to either stay a night at a homeless shelter, or stay a night in jail. Debro said that surprisingly the police also never checked to verify his identity.
“I wanted to choose jail because in this type of situation it would have made the most impact. But, for business reasons, I chose the homeless shelter for the night,” said Debro.
When he returned to the Marriott the following morning, the hotel management happily offered him a suite to “compensate” him for his troubles. However, Debro wasn’t satisfied. He wrote a letter to the hotel’s management but was ignored. It wasn’t until his lawyers filed a lawsuit against the Marriott that they finally responded and immediately proposed a settlement.
“The Marriott Corporation was sympathetic to what occurred. In my opinion, they just wanted to get it off their plate because it is cheaper to settle than to go to court,” added Debro.
Nearly two years later, during the Christmas Holiday season, Debro and his family can look back at what occurred and smile. He said his son humorously says, “Ironically, if you had gone out into the snow and died, God forbid, the family might have become rich.”