Excited to be going back to school, Ja’Mari Oliver told his mother he wanted to run into Safeway on his own to buy a sandwich for lunch.
But when the 11-year-old San Francisco boy tried to leave, security guards accosted him to falsely accuse him of stealing the sandwich.
“I’m Black and that’s just how they feel,” Ja’Mari later told his mother, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
“It crushed him,” Leanne Francis, his former teacher, told the publication. “It crushed us, too.”
In a statement, Safeway said the incident “fell short” of its policies and noted the security guards involved have been removed from the store, KRON reported.
Ja’Mari showed the security guards his receipt, but they continued to question him. Finally a store manager told him he could go.
“I felt scared, like something was gonna happen to me,” he told KRON. “They racially profiled me for stealing sandwiches.”
“I’ve never seen him cry like that,” said his mom, Tatiana Hawkins, according to the Chronicle.
Students and teachers at Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy, where Ja’Mari attends school, held a march and rally at the store Wednesday, the San Francisco Examiner reported. In chants and posters, protesters said, “Safeway is not safe.”
“We’re a civil rights academy,” Francis told the Chronicle. “We have to hold up to that.”
His principal, Emmanuel Stewart, described Ja’Mari as a “tremendous child who wants to come to school.”
Ja’Mari said the rally “makes me feel good” and that he hoped for “better things” in the future, according to the Examiner.
Safeway spokesperson Wendy Gutshall said the store “extended our most sincere apologies for the boy’s unsettling experience,” the publication reported. An investigation into the incident, which involved guards hired by a third party, continues.
Hawkins told the Chronicle that the store manager offered her a $25 gift card.
“I’m not sure how that will help him,” said Hawkins. She plans to mail it back to the chain.