An­other thing you can­not do while black? Gro­cery shop in Cit­rus Heights

The Tribune (SLO) - - Opinion - BY ERIKA D. SMITH

The story of Zhal­isa Clarke — a black woman who was mind­ing her own busi­ness at a Ra­ley’s in Cit­rus Heights when cashier ac­cused her of shoplift­ing and called the po­lice — didn’t make na­tional news.

It could have. In fact, it should have.

Like Rashon Nel­son and Donte Robin­son, the black men who in April went to a Star­bucks for a busi­ness meet­ing and soon found them­selves be­ing hand­cuffed by Philadel­phia po­lice, Clarke went to Ra­ley’s for the most in­nocu­ous of rea­sons: to go gro­cery shop­ping.

She and a friend, who is Asian Amer­i­can, were headed on an ex­tended camp­ing trip and were stock­ing up. They spent quite a bit of time wan­der­ing the aisles look­ing for the right food and condi­ments, and in Clarke’s case, ap­par­ently a lit­tle too long look­ing for a ve­gan spread.

Clarke star­ing at a shelf some­how roused the sus­pi­cion of a cashier, who thought she was shoplift­ing and no­ti­fied a store manag- er. The man­ager came over, spoke to Clarke and told the cashier to let it go. But the cashier de­cided to vi­o­late com­pany pol­icy and call po­lice any­way. And so, a few min­utes later, as the women of color were pack­ing their car with their $220 in pur­chases, two white po­lice of­fi­cers rolled up in an SUV.

“Ma'am, did you buy those gro­ceries?” Clarke said the of­fi­cer asked, sum­ming up the ex­pe­ri­ence on Medium last month. “We have a wit­ness cashier that says that you took sev­eral items with­out pay­ing for it.”

Clarke handed the of­fi­cers the re­ceipt, but that wasn’t good enough. They went through every bag and unpacked a cooler. At one point, they even went into the store to watch sur­veil­lance video be­fore let­ting both women go, ad­mit­ting they didn’t have enough to file charges.

“I was very up­set that the po­lice treated me like a crim­i­nal,” Clarke told me last week from her home in San Fran­cisco.

Ra­ley’s, for its part, han- dled the sit­u­a­tion with the same deft­ness that Star­bucks did. The gro­cery chain’s di­rec­tor of con­sumer af­fairs, Chelsea Mi­nor, reached out to Clarke al­most im­me­di­ately.

“We take full re­spon­si­bil­ity for the ac­tions of our em­ploy­ees,” she com­mented on Clarke’s Medium post. “This is not our prac­tice or pol­icy and we have taken ap­pro­pri­ate ac­tion with the in­di­vid­ual in­volved. On be­half of Ra­ley’s lead­er­ship, we apol­o­gize. Our Pres­i­dent would like to speak with you per­son­ally and make this right.”

And in­deed, Ra­ley’s pres­i­dent, Keith Knopf, did. Af­ter mul­ti­ple con­ver­sa­tions, which also in­volved the ACLU Foun­da­tion of North­ern Cal­i­for­nia, the chain agreed to sev­eral re­forms.

Among them is re­quir­ing all em­ploy­ees take di­ver­sity train­ing with a fo­cus on ex­plicit and im­plicit bias, and man­dat­ing all new hires par­tic­i­pate in “en­hanced” in­clu­sion and bias train­ing. Ra­ley’s also plans to hire a firm to au­dit its cor­po­rate poli­cies and sug­gest im­prove­ments.

So, all’s well that ends well, right? For Ra­ley’s, yes. For the coun­try, no.

It’s trou­bling that Clarke’s story never cut through the vi­ral noise of so­cial me­dia. It speaks to how rou­tine th­ese “Liv­ing While Black” sit­u­a­tions have be­come and how fast Amer­i­cans have be­come numb to them. When I hear sto­ries like Clarke’s, I can’t help but won­der why white peo­ple keep do­ing this stuff?

Why would any­one – af­ter see­ing “BBQ Becky” get the meme treat­ment for calling the po­lice on a black fam­ily hav­ing a cook­out in an Oak­land park, or see­ing a white Yale student get roasted on so­cial me­dia af­ter calling the cops on a black grad­u­ate student for sleep­ing – think it’s a good idea to dial 911 to stop in­nocu­ous ac­tiv­ity? One would think those ex­am­ples would be de­ter­rent enough to keep peo­ple’s racist ten­den­cies in check.

Then again, what has be­come abun­dantly clear is that pub­lic sham­ing isn’t what it used to be. How can it be when we have a pres­i­dent who makes racist com­ments on a reg­u­lar ba­sis – with an en­tire news cy­cle ded­i­cated to whether there is a record­ing of him say­ing the n-word – and polls show his sup­port­ers ap­pre­ci­ate his per­son­al­ity more than his poli­cies?

Say or do some­thing racist th­ese days, and you’re as likely to get 15 min­utes of fame on Fox News and more Twit­ter fol­low­ers than you’ve ever dreamed of as you are to get crit­i­cized. Even praise from the racist in the White House isn’t out of the ques­tion.

Why else would two C.K. McClatchy High School stu­dents feel so com­fort­able shar­ing a video of them­selves say­ing the n-word and wear­ing black­face?

Peo­ple have no shame. But at least, for now, cor­po­ra­tions do.

Erika D. Smith writes for The Sacra­mento Bee.

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