As the coronavirus continues to dominate our collective conversations prompting reactions and actions based wholly on spreading awareness, comfort and hope, there continues to be an uptick in racial profiling as we move from mass groups, to self-isolation.
On Monday, Deja Patterson, 24, her mom Theresa, and her cousin Reem, ventured to a WinCo Foods located in Pittsburg, California, around 7:30 p.m. in order to purchase food. What should have been a casual, brief store visit, morphed into a complete racial profiling incident as the group was accosted over a bag of lemons.
The trio lives about 20-30 miles away in Castro Valley and visited the Pittsburg location in order to get essential needs after the county was placed under a shelter-in-place lockdown that was issued due to the coronavirus outbreak.
“Grocery stores here are scarce, we knew that going to WinCo, we would find most likely what we need. We had called WinCo actually beforehand and they had told us that they were fully stocked so that is why we went there,” Patterson said in an interview with MadameNoire.
Patterson said after security admitted them into the store, they visited the produce section but were unable to locate clear plastic produce bags.
After looking around, the group asked a worker in the produce section if there were any bags, to which he responded no. According to Patterson, they “improvised” and decided to use a bag for grapefruits, by dumping the fruit into its section. They then filled the empty grapefruit bag with lemons. All of a sudden, the same worker informed them that they would have to walk to the back of the store and retrieve a produce bag. As the group complied and gathered their lemons, they were approached by an employee named Kenny, who later introduced himself as the store manager.
“When he came from behind us, he immediately swarmed in and stuck his hand directly in our cart, and rummaged through the rest of our groceries that were in our full basket and removed the lemons, saying immediately, ‘You guys are stealing and lost prevention has called this in and you have to leave,” Patterson said.
“He did not even introduce himself at all. We knew nothing of what position he was, who he was, where he came from, if he was loss prevention, nothing,” she continued, claiming that she and her mother were assaulted in the aftermath.
The almost eight-minute video, captured by Reem, picks up minutes after the confrontation with Kenny begins as he confronts Patterson and her mom about the empty grapefruit bag in their cart, accusing them of stealing. Patterson told MadameNoire the video did not show that Kenny had followed the group and aggressively reached inside their cart to grab the empty grapefruit bag.
“He’s coming and attacking three women unannounced,” said Patterson. “It was completely unannounced and he provoked us to the point where we felt like we had to record because we didn’t know where it could go.”
“At this point, we’re refusing service because you’re trying to steal,” Kenny says in the video. As the women try to navigate away from him, he pushes between Patterson and her mom, flinging her mother’s arm, while he grabs the cart. The women continue to question him and deny his claims at this time. Kenny threatens to call the police, accusing them of swapping an expensive item for a lesser priced item. He then calls the group “crazy,” while he dials 911.
As the women try to explain what happened to the store’s security guard who comes into frame, the worker who advised them to grab a separate bag walks over, but instead seemingly corroborates Kenny’s accusations, causing the women to feel vulnerable.
“That felt like it was those two against all three of us, and we’re women,” Patterson said.
Kenny continues to follow the women around the store after informing the officers on the phone to meet in the front, to which the group complied. As they continue to ask for a manager, Kenny at one point identifies himself, but other store employees inform them that he is not the manager, but a lead clerk.
Patterson said they waited for the officers to arrive, who escorted them out of the store after WinCo denied them from purchasing. Patterson said the two male officers, one white, one Black, told them that Kenny made a citizen’s arrest and they were complying with WinCo’s policy regarding the matter.
WinCo has not yet replied to MadameNoire’s inquiry regarding the incident. However, Patterson said she made contact with corporate headquarters who told her the matter was under investigation and advised her to send a formal complaint. At the time of publishing, she had not heard back from WinCo’s spokesperson.
“It just felt like so much racism, it just felt like so much racial profiling,” she replied when asked why she posted the video to social media. “I felt like we were targeted and I don’t want to be targeted ever,” Patterson continued.
“The only that I can ask for is accountability because that is on their property,” said Patterson, including that she wants a public apology. “The correct response I think would be to have Kenny and the other gentleman fired and to have better training going forward because this doesn’t have to happen again.”