SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX-TV) — Children from a San Francisco elementary school named after a civil rights icon rallied Wednesday, demanding justice for a Black fifth-grade student who was falsely accused of stealing a sandwich at a Castro District Safeway.
After the bell rang marking the end of school at Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy Wednesday afternoon, the day wasn’t over. Students — accompanied by teachers and their parents — took to the streets, marching to the nearby Safeway grocery store on Market Street to protest an injustice against their classmate.
On April 26th, 11-year-old Ja’Mari Oliver walked into Safeway and bought a sandwich for lunch as his mom waiting in the car. When he tried to leave, he was stopped by store security.
“I went to the sandwich deli to pay for my sandwich. When I came back, the security guard told me to put my sandwich on the counter because I didn’t pay for it,” Ja’Mari told KPIX-TV.
He left the store in tears.
“He showed them his receipt and everything. They were antagonizing him, until the manager walked up and said to basically leave him alone,” said his mother Tatiana Hawkins Pigge.
She went in to talk to the manager.
“When the situation happened, they basically let us know that they will talk to the security guards and deal with the company. They offered him a $25 gift card. So with that, I never really wanted to keep talking to them,” explained Pigge.
Teachers from Harvey Milk also went to the store before Wednesday’s after-school protest was organized. Students, parents and faculty marched from the school to Safeway, with some children holding signs reading “Safeway is not safe.”
“This could have been a fatality if it had been handled a little bit differently,” said one parent.
“He’s an 11-year-old kid who went to buy his lunch. This should be something an 11-year-old kid should be able to do in our city,” said another parent. “So we’re here to support him and his family and his friends.”
“It’s important for us to understand that racial profiling will lead to something else,” said Harvey Milk principal Emmanuel Stewart. “Racial profiling can lead to what we see in our country, right? When you think about racial profiling an 11 year old boy – is this going to lead to what happened to George Floyd?”
In a statement, Safeway said the security guard who stopped Ja’Mari was a third-party employee who did not work for Safeway.
“Safeway has clear policies against discrimination and racial profiling. While our internal investigation is ongoing, we can tell you that this is counter to our policies and training,” the statement read. “Those involved in the incident have been removed from the store.”
Ja’Mari, an honor student since kindergarten, remains traumatized by what happened and hasn’t walked into any store in San Francisco since the incident.
“It’s not right,” he said.