Dozens of children and community members gathered Wednesday to support a black classmate who was stopped and accused of theft by Safeway employees last week.
The Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy families organized the protest in Safeway on behalf of Ja’Mari Oliver, a fifth grader attending the close-knit public school. One child shouted, “Safeway is not safe,” a feeling that was repeated in chants and on posters.
Last week, 11-year-old Ja’Mari bought a sandwich at Safeway on Market and on the streets of the church to eat at his school nearby. On the way out, three grocery store employees stopped him and asked if he had paid for the meal.
Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy parents and students protest outside Safeway on Church and Market streets on Wednesday May 5, 2021 after a classmate was accused of theft. (Kevin N. Hume / SF examiner)
Although Ja’Mari showed his receipt, he said he was still being prevented from leaving until the store manager told him he could leave. The emotional damage was instant.
“It made me sad,” said Ja’Mari on Wednesday. “I was scared as if something might happen. I just cried. “
School staff noticed a “change in his behavior” that day and asked him what had happened, said third grade teacher Ryan Swick. When the staff went to the store the next morning, he said they had encountered hostility themselves.
“He was very shaken, not his usual self at school,” said Swick. “Children are aware that this can happen. You don’t think it will happen to anyone in your church until it happens to someone in your church. “
Emmanuel Stewart, director of the Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy, speaks to parents and students. (Kevin N. Hume / SF examiner)
A Safeway representative confirmed that third-party security had asked for a receipt and Ja’Mari eventually left the store with his mother. Those involved were “removed” from the store, said spokeswoman Wendy Gutshall.
“The store manager didn’t know what had happened until the young man returned to the store with his mother,” Gutshall said in an email. “He sincerely apologized for the boy’s troubling experience. During our internal investigation, we can tell you that this is against our policies and training. “
The incident became a study lesson for the school and was incorporated into research-based lessons when posters were made for the rally this week. Teachers asked students questions such as whether they had ever been accused of doing something they hadn’t done, how it made them feel, and why they thought it would happen if Ja’Mari had a receipt.
Supervisor Rafael Mandelman also spoke at the protest. (Kevin N. Hume / SF examiner)
A black student from Swick pointed to the racism behind Ja’Mari’s experience. Some students wrote signs and wrote, “All colors matter,” which sparked conversations about what time it was time to focus on opposing what had happened to their black classmate.
“We don’t want to just focus on the things that can happen [Black and brown students]”Said Swick.” But also, how do we restore Ja’Maris joy? How do we shower him with fellowship to let him know we are with him? If you mess with one of us, you lie down with all of us. “
Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy parents and students march through the Castro. (Kevin N. Hume / SF examiner)
Ja’Mari said the rally “makes me feel good” and that he was hoping for “better things” in the future.
The school community is still making demands and will meet with representatives from Safeway. At the rally on Wednesday, Rev. Amos Brown spoke and threatened a boycott.
“We’re going to have a meeting with them where we come to Jesus, or we’re going to say,” We’re not going to shop at Safeway, “said Brown, president of the National Association for the Promotion of the Chapter of the Colored in San Francisco need to teach Safeway a lesson. “
Rev. Amos Brown threatened to boycott Safeway in a protest Wednesday. (Kevin N. Hume / SF examiner)
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