Photos of a man wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood while shopping Saturday prompted a harsh rebuke from local leaders in San Diego County, and police now say they’re looking into the unsettling imagery.
The incident took place one day after health officials in the county ordered residents to wear face coverings in public to stymie the spread of covid-19. Tiam Tellez - one of several shoppers who captured photos of the hooded man at a Vons supermarket in Santee, California, and posted them on social media - wrote on Facebook that several store employees repeatedly told the man to take off the hood or leave.
Melissa Hill, a spokesperson for Vons, confirmed Tellez’s account and called the incident “alarming.” She said the unnamed customer ignored staff requests to remove the hood until he reached the checkout area. At that point, the man removed the hood and purchased his groceries before leaving, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department said in a statement Monday that deputies were not called to the scene Saturday, but “are looking into the matter and will pursue any appropriate criminal charges.”
The photos have garnered reaction from a slew of local authorities, including the regional Anti-Defamation League director as well as Santee’s mayor, John Minto, who called the man’s hood “a sad reminder of intolerance.”
“Santee, its leaders, and I will not tolerate such behavior,” Minto wrote in a statement. “Santee and its citizens are great, and this particular individual’s actions are not representative of us as a people and a wonderful city.”
County Supervisor Dianne Jacobs offered similar condemnation, writing that the man’s actions were abhorrent and have “no place in Santee or any part of San Diego County.”
“It is not who we are. It is not what we stand for and can’t be tolerated,” Jacobs said.
The incident comes as people of color in the United States grapple with the potential consequences of wearing face coverings like bandannas, especially black men, who fear being racially profiled as criminals or gang members. In March, two black men wearing protective masks recorded themselves being followed by a police officer as they exited a Walmart in Wood River, Illinois.
While the men felt they were being profiled, Wood River Police Chief Brad Wells told The Washington Post the officer approached the men because he “believed the two individuals to be acting suspiciously.”
But images of Saturday’s incident in Santee, which have circulated on social media, have invoked an entirely new sense of fear for minority residents. The Los Angeles Times notes that the city has a history of racially motivated attacks and is known by the nicknames “Klantee” and “Santucky.”
On Monday, the president of NAACP San Diego branch, Francine Maxwell, lamented what she called a recent pattern of racial discrimination by local authorities while enforcing social distancing orders and called for an internal review of procedures.
“From biased enforcement in beaches and parks to KKK hoods in the grocery store, covid-19 hasn’t changed racism and discrimination in our society,” the chapter wrote.
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