A Texas woman is speaking out after she said her teenage sons and nephews, who are Black, were racially profiled by a Kroger store manager who called the police on them, reasoning “they looked like they could be shoplifters,” she said.
The woman, Ukiah Swain, said four of her family members — ages 15, 16, 19 and 20 — went to the store in Mesquite to buy snacks Thursday night when, after purchasing their items, they were stopped and accused of theft.
“He waited for them to pay before calling police,” she told HuffPost on Tuesday, referring to the assistant manager. “He didn’t say anything to them. Someone else told them that he was going to go call the police.”
The four of them produced receipts for their purchases, Swain said, adding that responding police officers wrote up the young men and issued them trespass warnings on instruction from the manager.
Swain, who said she rushed to the store after getting a call from her son and began broadcasting to Facebook Live, said it only got worse when she confronted the assistant manager, who is white, about his reason for the accusation.
“He said they looked like they could be shoplifters,” she said of the man’s assessment of her sons and nephews.
Her 16-year-old son, Zavarion Swain, said he received a similar response from the man after asking him what the problem was.
“I looked at the manager and I asked him what we did and he was like, ‘We’ve had problems with people like you before,’” Zavarion Swain told NBC Dallas–Forth Worth.
The Mesquite Police Department, reached by WFAA, said the store’s employees said they have had issues with kids loitering in the store and shoplifting. The department added that any business may request that officers issue criminal trespass warnings for any reason.
“They were treated like criminals, and that’s going to stay with them for the rest of their lives.” Daryl Washington, attorney for the Swain family
A representative for the police department did not respond to a request for comment.
Spokespeople for Kroger’s Dallas division, in a statement obtained by HuffPost, said the employees involved have been removed from the store as an investigation into the matter takes place and that representatives have reached out to Ukiah Swain to apologize. The statement added that a sensitivity training planned for the division’s stores has been moved up and the company reached out to the police department to rescind any related complaint that was filed.
“We strive to provide a welcoming environment and to show respect for all customers. We did not live up to our values in this situation,” the statement read. “We recognize these steps alone won’t change the broader systemic and cultural biases that plague our society, but we believe that together they demonstrate the seriousness with which we take these issues and our desire to be a part of the solution.”
After speaking with other members of the community, Swain’s attorney, Daryl Washington, said racial profiling appears to be an issue at that Kroger location.
“It’s just the culture of that store,” he told HuffPost. He agreed that more training of the staff is needed and insisted that those directly involved should be fired.
“They were treated like criminals, and that’s going to stay with them for the rest of their lives,” he said of the four young men. “You can’t just issue a broad apology and just go about business as usual, especially from the amount of money that Kroger is making from the minority community.”
Ukiah Swain confirmed that the company has reached out to her to apologize but said that no one has apologized directly to her sons and nephews, who she said have been deeply affected by what happened.
“As a mother, from what I see, they’re still hurt, they’re upset, they’re frustrated. My 19-year-old has not left the house at all. He hasn’t even stepped outside for a breath of fresh air,” she said. “That’s totally unlike him.”
Asked how she wants the store to apologize to them, she replied, “The same way that they humiliated them — in person.”
This article appeared in the Huffington Post.