Shopping While Black | PLEASE SHARE!
June 14, 2019
On the evening of June 14, my cousin, a friend, and I were shopping at Forever 21 in Maple Grove, Minnesota. We were racially profiled and accused of shoplifting. The police were called and we were treated like criminals, not the consumers we walked in the store as.
Based on the criminalization of Black people, we believe we were treated as criminals without due process, facts, or evidence. We also do not believe this treatment would have occurred had we instead been three white women. It is apparent that implicit bias and blatant racism was at play, and that both the store manager, security, and the police perpetuated historical and blatant racism. It is also apparent that there are no processes in place by either organization to address the events that occurred on June 14.
We arrived at the Maple Grove Forever 21 at about 4:00 P.M. We were in the store for approximately thirty minutes. I (Brittany) purchased two shirts and a pair of shorts, my friend (Latonya) bought a pair of shorts. We proceeded to the register and purchased all of those items.
On the way out of the store, a community patrol officer opened the door. I said hello, and then walked out. My friend and cousin were right behind me. We got into the car, I started the ignition, and Latanya looked up and said, “I think they are pointing at us.” Immediately after, two police cars pulled up and one of them approached the driver’s side where I was sitting and asked, “What’s going on?” I replied, “What do you mean? Nothing, you tell me.” He then requested to see our identification, to which we questioned why and refused. We were shocked, in fear, and intimidated. By that time two other officers were standing at the car, and we still had no idea why we had been approached or were being questioned. The officer then asked if there was stolen merchandise in the car. I told him no, and again he asked me at least four more times. I told him he could check my bag and my receipt, to which he had no response. We even told them they should check the tapes in the store if they thought we were stealing, he went inside and we waited about five minutes. One officer (D. Struckmann, vehicle 710) stood by my car while the other two officers went inside the store. When the other officers came back outside they walked directly to the back door of the car and OPENED IT, and demanded my friend get out. She gave them a green sweater (with stains) that she had brought into the store to compare to pants she expected to purchase that day. She also showed them a photo of her wearing the sweater the day before. Without permission, the officer searched her purse, the backseat, her bags. We frequently shop at Forever 21, so of course we have many items from the store. On this particular day, I too was wearing an outfit I had purchased from Forever 21 several months earlier. This was not unusual. The officer took the sweater inside and came back a few moments later, and threw it back into the car.
He then said the manager didn’t have evidence that we had stolen anything. At that point we simply no longer wanted anything we had purchased and wanted to exercise our right to return those items. We are professionals who work every day. We are good people, yet we are Black, and we had been criminalized. We decided to return all the items we purchased and told the police our intentions. The police told us that we would be trespassing and could not go back into the store.
When the officers realized we didn’t “steal” anything, it was our expectation that we would have been “exonerated.” Police have a lot of control, and not only were they complicit, but they were allies of the store manager who accused us of something we did not do.
After we were accused and the officer searched our items, they realized we were not thieves or in their words, the store didn’t have evidence to prove that we were. The officers still did not rectify the situation when they had an opportunity to do so. Instead they perpetuated it, by not speaking to this grave injustice.
The officers continued to treat us like criminals by not allowing us to return items we had purchased and showed receipts for. They told us at least three times that we would be trespassing if we returned the items back to the store.
All of these processes and protocols were completely unacceptable, and need to be examined very carefully. The processes were disrespectful, degrading, and provided discretion that criminalizes innocent people. As taxpayers, citizens, and human beings we are appalled, and we look to your leadership to address this disparaging issue.
Again, police have the authority and ability to heal race relations. In this case, it was a big fail for the Maple Grove Police Department. The way this situation was handled is very disappointing and needs to be rectified.
We, as tax payers and consumers expect to hear back from the leadership of both MPD and Forever 21 about how future incidents like this will be resolved. We also need assurance that this won’t happen to us again. The criminalization of people of color, Black people is a major reason for the racial disparities that are overwhelming in the state of Minnesota. How do we continue to find solutions that eliminate bias that sees all people of color, especially Black people, as criminals?
Brittany (Tazz) Bentley, Teiara Hayslett, LaTanya Cannady
Cc: Maple Grove PD, Forever 21, Open letter to Spokesman Recorder, Insight News, MinnPost