After a week of controversy sparked by President Trump’s racist tweets against four Democratic women of color, a black Georgia state representative described being harassed at a grocery store by a white man Friday, whom she said called her ignorant and told her to “go back” where she came from.
State Rep. Erica Thomas described the incident in an emotional Facebook video after it took place at her local Publix store in an Atlanta suburb.
“I hope this video opens up people’s eyes,” she said. “There’s so much hate in this world and it’s being incited by our president, every single day. And people are really doing more and more and more. This happened to me, it could happen to anybody.”
Thomas said she was at the grocery store with her daughter, checking out in the 10 items or less lane. She had about 15 items, she said, but at 9 months pregnant, she said she needed the quick checkout line to avoid being on her feet too long.
In response, she said a white man came up to her and began yelling at her for the number of items she had.
“He says, ‘You lazy son of a bitch. You need to go back where you came from,’” Thomas said, adding the man also called her “ignorant” and “a piece of shit.”
On Saturday, the man showed up again at the grocery store as Thomas was speaking to local TV news outside. Eric Sparkes admitted he had called her lazy and cursed at her, but he denied telling her to go back where she came from, WSB-TV reported. Thomas replied he was lying to make himself look better.
Sparkes told WSB that he is a Democrat.
“She’s doing it for political purposes,” he said.
When asked by WSB about Sparkes’s exact words, Thomas said she couldn’t remember them verbatim.
“I don’t want to say he said, ‘Go back to your country,’ or ‘Go back to where you came from,’” Thomas told WSB, adding she was sure he told her to go back. “But he was making those types of references is what I remember.”
Thomas didn’t immediately return messages from BuzzFeed News, but she added in a tweet that there were multiple people who saw what happened inside the store and could confirm what happened to her. In a statement, Publix said it was cooperating with local law enforcement.
“At Publix we are committed to creating a safe and welcoming shopping experience for all our customers,” a spokesperson said. “We are cooperating with local law enforcement as they look into the matter.”
At the time of the initial confrontation, Thomas said she was so shocked that all she could say in the moment was that she was pregnant and he needed to calm down.
“I’m from America,” she said in the Facebook video. “It really hurt me so bad.”
In a tweet, Thomas added that this happened while her husband is serving in the military.
After several minutes, a store employee told the man to leave. Thomas said she didn’t get his name or have a chance to record him, but she planned to take the matter to police.
“I was scared to leave there because I thought he was going to follow me to my car, take out a gun, you just never know,” she said.
In her video, Thomas said she hoped her story would help people see how hate was getting out of control, particularly since President Trump’s racist tweets and his supporters’ attacks on Rep. Ilhan Omar.
In his tweets last Sunday, Trump told the four progressive women to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” Like Thomas, all four of those women are Americans and elected officials.
On Saturday morning, Trump also used Twitter to distance himself from a racist chant — “send her back!” — his supporters shouted at a rally on Wednesday in reference to Omar.
“I did nothing to lead people on, nor was I particularly happy with their chant,” said Trump as he retweeted a video from Katie Hopkins, a prominent and racist British media figure, wherein she urged him to adopt it as a new campaign slogan.
“Just a very big and patriotic crowd,” said Trump.
On Twitter, people shared their support for Thomas and #IStandWithErica trended Saturday.
Thomas also called on people who witness discrimination or harassment to step in and speak up.
“People need to see the hate that is going on in this country,” she said. “The hate is real.”