Two Iowa women said they felt “criminalized” after a Family Dollar employee profiled them, demanding to look inside their purses before unlocking the door to let them leave.
“She compared me to other black people that came into the store to steal,” Kia Mead, 39, told the Des Moines Register. “That’s what shocked me. What do I need to do to not look like a thief?”
Mead and her sister, Korea Elliston, who are African-American, said they were looking forward to a night of bargain hunting at the discount store last Friday when things went awry. The pair were done perusing the aisles after struggling to find what they were looking for and headed for the exit when they were stopped by a worker.
What happened next left both women floored.
In a video recorded by Elliston, the employee, who is also Black, is seen rummaging through Mead’s purse. The women inquire why their bags are being checked, to which the employee replies that the two “walked through the store with a bag … and then you’re leaving without buying anything. We have a lot of people that do that, and they steal.”
“You know how many black people come in here and do that?” the worker adds, before noting how Mead and Elliston had walked down “all the aisles” in a way that made her suspect they were up to no good. She explains they weren’t the only customers who prompted her to lock the door.
While confronting the sisters, that same employee is seen unlocking and pushing the door open for a white couple who was leaving, the clip shows.
Recalling the “humiliating” incident, Elliston said she got a “weird feeling in her gut” when she first noticed the store worker standing near the exit and unlocking the door to let in a customer. That’s when she asked if the store was closing early, to which the worker told her no, prompting her fears that maybe someone dangerous was inside the store, or outside trying to get in.
Elliston, who wasn’t carrying a purse, grabbed her sister and suggested they go to Walmart instead.
As they got ready to leave, “the woman at the door said to [Mead], ‘I need to see your bag,’” she told the Register. “I immediately pressed, ‘record.’”
The sisters have since filed a report with Des Moines Police, as well as a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission.
According to TheLegality.com, it’s not uncommon for some stores, including membership stores like Costco, to check a customer’s bag and receipt before they leave. However, shoppers have the right to refuse what can be considered unreasonable search and seizure, as protected under the Fourth Amendment.
The outlet goes on to explain that the grounds for filing false imprisonment charges vary from state to state, but at most, customers must prove that the offender “had the intent to confine the victim,” and secondly, took action to actually confine them.
A spokesperson for Family Dollar told Atlanta Black Star the company is aware of the incident and is investigating. It also confirmed the employee in question has been dismissed, but didn’t provide further information on whether store policy allowed the worker to conduct the search.
Mead said she and her sister’s encounter proved “that anyone can profile you.”
Watch more in the clip below.