My Experience of Racial Profiling at Chicago’s Congress Plaza Hotel

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UPDATES SINCE POSTING: Since this article was posted, the hotel proceeded to delete all related comments and wall postings from their Facebook page. When they couldn’t keep up with the comment load, they deleted their Facebook page altogether. They have not reached out to any of the individuals involved or started a formal investigation as far as anyone knows. The general manager instead took a screenshot of a Facebook comment claiming to be an “eyewitness account” deeming the individuals involved “loud” and “cursing up a storm for 3 hours” and has been emailing that screenshot in response to everyone emailing him.

Also since this article, the Justice Conference has condemned the actions of the Congress Plaza Hotel and stated publicly that they will no longer do business with them. And the “white man in the tuxedo” publicly confirmed this version of what happened by admitting his behavior drew no response from the guards on duty.


On the evening of June 7, I had a heartbreaking experience of racial profiling at Congress Plaza Hotel (520 South Michigan Avenue Chicago, Illinois 60605) while in Chicago to speak at The Justice Conference and the Chicago International Youth Peace Movement Conference. Four young activists (Kwame Rose, Anthony Peña, Jeff Crawley and Larry Holloway) from Baltimore, who had taken a leap of faith by pooling their money together to rent a car and drive from Baltimore to Chicago to attend these conferences, were with me at the time. They sadly left a city that notoriously criminalizes black skin only to be branded as a threat in a Chicago hotel that only recently ended a decade-long strike led by its employees.

After 2 days of packed events, we found our time together coming to an end and headed to the lobby of the Congress Plaza Hotel to get my luggage. Having been a guest at the hotel that same day, I took the liberty of suggesting we sit in the lobby to catch our breath. Engaged in a great dialogue about the current movement for racial justice, we realized that hours (approx. 3) had slipped by with us sitting on the couches of that lobby. One of my statements to them was that many of our ancestors had died so we could have the luxury of sitting in that hotel lobby; I could have never imagined that we would be arguing for that same right minutes later.

At that point, we were approached by two uniformed security guards of the hotel who asked us if we were guests of the hotel. Stating that I was in fact a guest of the hotel, I was asked for my name and other verifying questions to prove that I was telling the truth. At that point, my colleagues and I asked why our group was singled out out of all the groups of people in the lobby, noticing that we were the only people of color in the lobby at the time. We were told that that we had been sitting in the lobby for four hours and using the outlets to charge our phones. When asked if the questioning had anything to do with race, the guard walked away in the tone of “never mind.”

I immediately went to the front desk and asked to speak to a manager. At that time an African American security guard, who was the supervising security official on duty, came to speak with us. When I asked why we were questioned in the first place, we were told the general manager had been watching us on video cameras and dispatched security. After repeatedly asking to speak to that individual directly, I was told that individual was not on the premises and that it was instead the supervising security guard who had singled us out. Getting misinformation and no clear explanation for why we were profiled in the first place, we demanded the courtesy of having a manager on duty come to speak with us (rather than merely the front desk supervisor). At this point, a fourth security guard aggressively approached, loudly demanding that we leave the premises because “we were causing a scene.” As my colleague took pictures of the “Manager on Duty” sign for documentation purposes, the guard threatened that he would call the Chicago Police Department on us because we were “reaching over the counter.” He later stated that the front desk clerks “feared for their lives” due to our actions.

As we prepared to leave to avoid arrest, staff of the Justice Conference came on scene to find out what was happening. Stating his oversight over the Conference’s finances and payment for 35% of the rooms at the hotel that night, one white male staff member was immediately invited to the back offices of the front desk to speak with staff and security about the matter. I and my four African American colleagues were never afforded that luxury of a private dialogue. The white male Justice Conference employee was never asked to verify his identity; he was immediately validated in their eyes.

As he spoke to them in the back, we stood in the lobby and prayed with Justice Conference attendees. As a result of their presence (an almost all white group), we were no longer being asked to leave. During this time, a white male dressed in a tuxedo began to become visibly violent and angry as he spoke on the hotel’s lobby telephone. Slamming the phone down and breaking it, he walked through the lobby shouting. Security guards in the lobby watched this take place but never stopped or questioned this individual. Yet, our conversation on the couches of the lobby warranted two and ultimately four uniformed security guards.

When speaking to the hotel’s general manager the next day, my colleague was told that an ongoing “homeless problem” in the hotel’s lobby likely led to our experience of profiling. I can’t express how infuriating it was to hear this. While 35% of the room blocks at the hotel were Justice Conference attendees, our group of five African Americans was compared to homeless people. He also echoed the statement that the female front desk clerks “feared for their lives.” While the Congress Plaza Hotel’s general manager had promised to investigate the matter, his justifying responses have already been deeply problematic and concerning.

Moving forward, we ask you to support us in holding the hotel accountable through the following action items:

1) Call general manager Shakeel Siddiqui at #312-427-3800 x 5075 (or email, asking for a full investigation into the incident of racial profiling on June 7 and requesting disciplinary action for any and all security guards who unjustly profiled a hotel guest and her company.

2) Call director of security Beatrice Ruiz at #312-427-3800 x 5021 (or email, asking for a full investigation into the incident of racial profiling on June 7 and requesting disciplinary action for any and all security guards who unjustly profiled a hotel guest and her company.

3) Commit to not personally and organizationally patronizing this hotel and encouraging those you know who visit or reside in Chicago to spend #NotOneDime there.

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Justice Conference

Rahiel Tesfamariam is a public theologian, social activist, writer and speaker. She is also a former columnist for The Washington Post and founder/ publisher of, a cutting-edge online lifestyle magazine highlighting progressive urban culture, faith, social change and global awareness. Visit and follow her on Twitter and Instagram @RahielT.