A Black child was reminded earlier this week that he has a robust support system behind him after being falsely accused of stealing food from a local supermarket.
On Wednesday, May 5, dozens of students and teachers from Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy and local community members protested at a Safeway in San Francisco, California, after 11-year-old Ja’Mari Oliver was accused of stealing a sandwich from the grocery store, despite showing security guards his receipt, the San Francisco Examiner reported.
The incident occurred on Monday, April 26, when Oliver was headed to school for his first in-person session since schools shut down and turned to virtual learning due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The young child bought a sandwich at the Safeway located on Market and Church streets. However, on his way out, Oliver was approached by three grocery store employees who questioned him on whether he had paid for his item.
Oliver said he showed them his receipt, but they allegedly would not let him leave until the store manager cleared him. The young child told the news outlet that the experience made him “sad.” He added, “I felt scared like something could have happened. I was just crying.”
A school staff member, Ryan Swick, said he saw a change in Oliver’s demeanor when he got to school and he questioned what happened. “He was very shaken up, not his usual self at school,” Swick explained. “Kids are aware that this kind of stuff happens. You don’t think it happens to someone in your community until it happens to someone in your community.”
Staff went over to the store the following morning, only to be met with similar treatment. Many felt Oliver had been racially profiled, and soon afterward, they organized a one-mile march to the Safeway store. The group carried “Black Lives Matter” and other signs as they chanted “Safeway is not safe” in a show of support for Oliver.
The fifth grader’s mother, Tatiana Oliver, told KRON 4 that she’s always advised her son to hold on to his receipt when he makes a purchase, “but only if like he wanted to return it; not because I would think someone would think he would steal.”
Wendy Gutshall, a spokesperson for Safeway, confirmed the incident and said those involved were “removed” from the store. “The store manager was unaware of what happened until the young man returned to the store with his mother,” she added. “We extended our most sincere apologies for the boy’s unsettling experience. While our internal investigation is ongoing, we can tell you that this is counter to our policies and training.”
In a statement sent to KRON 4, the company wrote, “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.”
The store also offered the young boy and his mother a $25 gift card. “Something like that can’t fix what happened,” the mom said in response.
Rev. Amos Brown, president of the San Francisco chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was also at the rally and threatened to boycott the store. “We’re going to have a come-to-Jesus meeting with them, or else we will say ‘We will not shop at Safeway,’ ” he expressed. “We’ve got to teach Safeway a lesson.”
A date to meet with Safeway representatives has not yet been made public.