Photos taken of a man wearing a white Ku Klux Klan hood as a face covering to demonstrate safe social distancing practices at a Southern California grocery store were met with backlash on social media.
The photos of the unidentified white male in the makeshift hood were taken Saturday at the Santee Vons grocery store chain located at 9643 Mission Gorge Road in Santee, California.
Melissa Hill, a spokesperson for Vons, Albertsons and Pavilions stores in Southern California, told the NBC 7 in San Diego that the man repeatedly ignored workers’ demands for him to remove the hood as he shopped for items. He later removed the hood, purchased his items and left, according to Hill.
“Unfortunately, an alarming and isolated incident occurred at our Vons store in Santee, where a customer chose an inflammatory method of wearing a face covering,” she said Thursday. “This was a disturbing incident for our associates and customers, and we are reviewing with our team how to best handle such inappropriate situations in the future.”
The incident occurred a day after a mandate from San Diego County officials went into effect; it requires residents to wear face coverings in public, including in grocery stores, to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Santee Mayor John Minto denounced the customer’s actions stating that it was a “sad reminder of intolerance” that leaders “will not tolerate.”
Minto made comments in a joint statement with the city council, NBC notes. “The citizens and Vons employees took steps to address the situation,” he said. “Many thanks to all who stepped forward to curtail this sad reminder of intolerance. Santee, its leaders, and I will not tolerate such behavior. Santee and its citizens are great, and this particular individual’s actions are not representative of us as a people and a wonderful city.”
But some who witnessed the incident felt the white supremacist imagery attributed to former incidents in the city’s history of racially motivated attacks with skinhead activity that led to nicknames such as “Klantee,” the San Diego Tribune reports.
Tiam Tellez, a Santee resident who witnessed the incident, shared photos he took of the hooded shopper on Facebook.
“So troublesome in so many ways this is still happening in Santee at Vons. Disgusting!” he wrote.
Tammy Gillies, the Anti-Defamation League San Diego regional director, joined in condemning the man’s actions.
“It’s shocking yet not surprising that even during these challenging times, we see people emboldened to express hate,” Gillies told NBC 7. “History teaches us that during times of crisis people are looking for a scapegoat.”
Through an online post, Francine Maxwell, president of the NAACP in San Diego, called for an investigation, prior to the Sheriff’s Office’s announcement that it was looking into the matter.
“In San Diego, we reviewed a video of an African American female aggressively detained by police officers while walking her dog on the beach—while other beach goers with their dogs were allowed to enjoy their day,” she wrote Thursday. “My own elderly father was accosted for walking alone in a park, while crowds of white protestors were left alone,” she added.
“In Santee, a resident wore a KKK hood for a facial covering to a local store and was allowed to shop,” she continues. “The NAACP San Diego Branch calls on the San Diego Chief of Police and the Santee Chief of Police to investigate both incidents and provide a full report to the community and a procedure moving forward to eliminate racial discrimination and harassment in the enforcement of social distancing.”
She later said it was important for law enforcement officials to denounce the incident, the San Diego Tribune reports. It is one action to which Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer can attest.
Whitmer recently excoriated a group of armed protesters who gathered inside the state’s capitol building last week to protest her stay-at-home orders.
Whitmer said the demonstrators, who referred to their protest as the American Patriot Rally, embodied some of the worst racism in American history.
The protesters gathered inside the statehouse in Lansing on April 30, some decorated in flags and others legally armed with long guns, as lawmakers assembled to consider Whitmer’s request to extend her emergency state-at-home orders amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The Republican-led Assembly rejected Whitmer’s request.
“We have to listen to the epidemiologists and health experts, and displays like the one we saw at our capitol is not representative of who we are,” she said during an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday.
She further condemned the group for their blatant display of Confederate and Nazi regalia. The governor said she witnessed protestors with “swastikas and Confederate flags and nooses and people with assault rifles” as the group attempted to enter the floor of the legislative chamber before being blocked by a line of state police and capitol staff.
“Some of the outrageousness of what happened at our capitol depicted some of the worst racism and awful parts of our history in this country,” Whitmer said.
Democratic congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, who represents Michigan’s 13th congressional district, also condemned the April 30 demonstrations.
“Black people get executed by police for just existing, while white people dressed like militia members carrying assault weapons are allowed to threaten State Legislators and staff,” she tweeted Thursday.