A Georgia state representative received an outpouring of support last week after she claimed she was cursed, verbally harassed and told to “go back where she came from” while shopping at a Publix grocery store.
That sympathy turned to scrutiny, however, after the lawmaker was accused of walking back her claims. Now critics are calling her experience a “hate hoax,” while others have continued to rally around her.
Rep. Erica Thomas (D-Austell) posted an emotional video on Facebook Live Friday detailing the moment she was “verbally assaulted” by a white man at a Publix in the Atlanta suburb of Mableton. Wiping away tears, Thomas, who’s nine months pregnant, said she was waiting in the express lane with her daughter when the man flew into a rage over the number of items she had.
“I’m really upset, because people are really getting out of control with this white privilege stuff,” she says in the clip. “This white man comes up to me and says ‘you lazy son of a b—h, you need to go back where you came from.’
Thomas didn’t film the encounter, but police said there’s store surveillance and witnesses that will help them get to the bottom of what happened.
At a press conference Monday, the Georgia representative, flanked by civil rights attorney Gerald Griggs again addressed the incident and denied backtracking on previous statements she made.
“This should’ve never happened,” Griggs told reporters. “To have a pregnant, African-American female to be berated and called a ‘B’ repeatedly. “In our community, that’s the worst thing you can call an African-American woman.”
On Saturday, local station WSB-TV returned to the Publix to interview Rep. Thomas about the incident. While there, Eric Sparkes, the man she accused of hurling expletives at her, also showed up and the two got into yet another heated confrontation.
Sparkes acknowledged using foul language against the Georgia Democrat, but denied telling her to “go back” where she came from, a racist attack recently used by President Donald Trump against four congresswomen of color.
You lied about “everything that happened,” Sparkes said. “Me telling you to ‘Go back where you came from. Did I say that? Is it on video?”
Thomas shot back: “Are you serious? What did you say to me then.”
“I called you a lazy b—h,” said Sparkes. “That’s the worst thing I said.”
The lawmaker then accused Sparkes of lying in an effort to save face. Afterward, Thomas clarified exactly what was said to her in the checkout line that day.
“I don’t want to say he said, ‘Go back to your country,’ or ‘Go back to where you came from,'” Thomas told WSB-TV. “But he was making those types of references is what I remember.”
Her about-face sparked a wave of backlash from social media critics who accused the lawmaker of fabricating her claims.
“Another #hatehoax, but this one by a politician,” a Twitter user wrote. “She should be removed from her position immediately.”
“She’s an unstable, hateful liar,” another said of Thomas. “The good people of Georgia deserve better.”
The incident even drew comparisons to that of “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett, who’s accused of staging a racist, homophobic attack against himself in Chicago earlier this year.
Amid the critics, there were still plenty of supporters who rallied around Thomas in the wake of the incident, sparking the social media hashtag #IStandWithErica.
“This is trump’s America, where a 9 month pregnant Rep. Erica Thomas is told to “go back to where she came from” at a @Publix in Georgia,” one man tweeted. “So, what’s racist about THOSE words? EVERYTHING.”
“This is disgusting, and Trump has emboldened this type of behavior from racist folks,” writer and editor Britni Danielle chimed in. “I am so sad (and angry) Erica and her daughter had to go through this. #IStandWithErica.”
Cobb County police said the incident remains under investigation.
A Publix spokeswoman provided Atlanta Black Star with the following statement:
“At Publix, we’re committed to creating a safe and welcoming shopping experience for all of our customers. We are cooperating with local law enforcement as they look into the matter.”
There’s no word on when the grocery store will release the surveillance video. A police report has since been filed and is expected to be released soon.
Watch more in the video below.