An 11-year-old Black boy in San Francisco was stopped by security guards after they falsely accused him of stealing a sandwich at a grocery store.
Ja’Mari Oliver was going back to school for the first time in more than 14 months on 26 April when he stopped to buy a sandwich at Safeway, something he has done on the way to school with his mother since he was in kindergarten.
On his way out, he was stopped by security guards who questioned him about whether he had stolen the snack and continued to ask him questions even after he had shown them his receipt. They finally let him go when the store manager said he was free to leave.
“They racially profiled me for stealing sandwiches,” Ja’Mari told KRON4.
His mother, Tatiana Hawkins, told the local TV station: “He was devastated, he’s never been racially profiled. I talk to him about this all the time. But me nor him thought he would have to go through this, this early.”
“He just asked me if he could go in by himself, so I told him he could go in but I never expected that to happen at all,” Ms Hawkins added.
“I felt scared like, something was gonna happen to me,” Ja’Mari said.
“I’ve always told him to keep his receipt, but only if like he wanted to return it, not because I would think someone would think he would steal,” Ms Hawkins said.
“I’ve never seen him cry like that,” she told the San Francisco Chronicle.
In a statement to KRON4, Safeway said: “Across all of our stores we strive for an environment where everyone is treated with courtesy dignity and respect — clearly, this instance fell short of our expectations.”
The company said the security guards involved were hired by a third party and had been removed from the store. The store offered Ja’Mari and his mother a $25 gift card, but Ja’Mari told KRON4: “Something like that can’t fix what happened.”
Emmanuel Stewart, Ja’Mari’s principal at Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy, told The Chronicle he’s a “tremendous child who wants to come to school”.
Mr Stewart sent a note to families about the incident, saying a teacher and coach at the school had gone to the store.
“They hoped to have a conversation that would start to repair the harm that was caused,” but they “were met with hostility, disregard, and disrespect by store employees, who tried to dismiss the situation,” the note said.
“The young man at the centre of this unfortunate interaction was asked for a receipt by third-party security guards. He produced his receipt and left the store. When he later returned with his mother and spoke with our store director, he extended our most sincere apologies for the boy’s unsettling experience,” Safeway spokesperson Wendy Gutshall told The Chronicle.
After classes ended on Wednesday, students, parents and community activists marched from the school to the store to show support for Ja’Mari.
“It’s definitely a blessing to know that it’s not a situation that’s being overlooked at all,” he told KTVU.