Classmates of a Black 11-Year-Old Protest the Safeway That Wrongly Accused Him of Stealing
Students and teachers from Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy in San Francisco protest outside a Safeway store in solidarity withJa’Mari Oliver, courtesy of Rafael Mandelman
Ja’Mari Oliver was beginning his first day back to in-person learning by getting a sandwich from a nearby Safeway store, when a security guard accused the Black 11-year-old of stealing. Even after he showed the guard his receipt, he wasn’t allowed to leave until the manager checked him out, according to the San Francisco Examiner.
Ja’Mari’s classmates saw it as a case of racial profiling, and they decided to take action.
The elementary-school kids at Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy in San Francisco organized a solidarity march Wednesday afternoon after they found out about the April 26 incident with Ja’Mari. Dozens of students, staff, and community members joined the one-mile march to the Safeway store on Market Street, carrying “Black Lives Matter” and other signs to support Ja’Mari and condemn racism and discrimination.
“Kids are aware that this kind of stuff happens,” said Ryan Swick, principal of the school, named for the first openly gay elected official in California. “You don’t think it happens to someone in your community, until it happens to someone in your community.”
Ja’Mari’s mother, Tatiana Hawkins, said the recent killings of Black men in the news, like Andrew Brown Jr. and Daunte Wright, played a role in her son’s fear when he was stopped at the store. “I’ve never seen him cry like that,” she said. “He was scared that something was going to happen to him because of the things he keeps seeing in the world.”
Hawkins told the San Francisco Chronicle that after she went into the Safeway last week to ask why her son was crying, the employees met her with “hostility,” and the store manager eventually gave her a $25 gift card. A Safeway spokesperson told the Chronicle that the security guards who accused him of stealing were from an outside firm and are no longer working at the market.
The march was also an occasion for the teachers and kids to talk about race and systematic injustice in the United States.
“We don’t just want to focus on the things that can happen to [Black and brown students],” Swick said, according to The Examiner. “But also, how are we restoring Ja’Mari’s joy? How are we showering him with the community to let him know we are with him? When you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us.”
According to the Examiner, the school is currently creating a list of demands to bring to a meeting with Safeway to create a resolution on behalf of Ja’Mari.