Market St. Safeway Racially Profiles An 11-Year-Old, Kids’ Protest Ensues
11-year-old Ja’Mari Oliver was on his way to his first day back at school last Monday, after 14 long months away from his classmates. He bought a sandwich at the deli counter of the Safeway at Church and Market, while his mom waited outside. But even though Ja’Mari had his receipt proving he bought the sandwich, two security guards and Safeway staff accused him of stealing the sandwich and detained the Black youngster.
But Ja’Mari’s classmates at the Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy wouldn‘t tolerate it. A large crowd of students from the Castro neighborhood public school left the school grounds Wednesday afternoon to go confront the Safeway management.
Having more than a hundred elementary school students protest your grocery store is obviously terrible public relations, and it didn’t have to come to this. First, the kid should not have been profiled. And secondly, two staff members of color from the Milk Academy went to the Safeway the next day to address the situation.
“They hoped to have a conversation that would start to repair the harm that was caused,” according to a letter from the academy’s principal Emmanuel Stewart and the school’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee, reprinted in the Chronicle. The staff apparently “were met with hostility, disregard, and disrespect by store employees, who tried to dismiss the situation,” according to the letter.
A Safeway spokesperson acknowledged the incident in a statement to the Chronicle, but seemed to deflect blame to the security guards. “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,” spokesperson Wendy Gutshall told the Chronicle. “The young man at the center 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, we extended our most sincere apologies for the boy’s unsettling experience.”
Safeway sure did “fall short of expectations” on this one. But the kids at Harvey Milk Academy exceeded expectations and inspired us by banding together and organizing an immediate protest to stick up for their classmate.