Several photos and videos circulating online show the man shopping while wearing the tall, pointy white KKK hood at a Vons grocery store in Santee, Calif., on Saturday. He also wore a camouflage T-shirt and dark shorts, and had a long, scraggly grey ponytail hanging down his back.
“I was in disbelief,” witness Melissa S. told the Times of San Diego. “He was standing behind me in line, standing quietly,” said Melissa, who asked not to have her last name released. She was among several people who took photos and shared them online.
Melissa said another man in a wheelchair “saluted” the man in the hood at one point.
“I took the photo because I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing,” she said.
Clerks repeatedly asked the man to remove the hood or leave the store, a spokesperson for Vons grocery stores told the L.A. Times. He eventually removed the hood after a store supervisor told him to do so in the check-out line, the spokesperson said.
“Several employees came over together and told the man to either remove the hood or he would have to leave, so he removed the hood,” witness Tiam Tellez confirmed in a post on Facebook, where he shared several images of the man.
The San Diego Sheriff’s Department was not called about the initial incident but is now looking into the matter, it said in a statement on Monday.
Tammy Gillies, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League of San Diego, condemned the incident and called for justice in a tweet on Sunday. She also questioned the grocery store’s seemingly slow response to the incident, and offered to “educate” its staff on the issue.
“San Diego is #NoPlaceForHate,” she wrote.
“It’s shocking yet not surprising that even during these challenging times, we see people emboldened to express hate,” Gillies told NBC San Diego. “History teaches us that during times of crisis people are looking for a scapegoat.”
Vons called the incident “disturbing” and said it will work with employees on how to handle such incidents in the future.
Santee Mayor John Minto condemned the incident on behalf of the city council and the city in a statement on Sunday. He described the hood as a “symbol of hatred,” and thanked “all who stepped forward to curtail this sad reminder of intolerance.”
“Santee, its leaders and I will not tolerate such behaviour,” Minto said in his 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.”
The city has spent years trying to shed a reputation that earned it nicknames such as “Klantee” and “Santucky,” according to local reports. Several racially motivated attacks have occurred in Santee over the years, including one case in 1998 when five white men broke a black Marine’s neck at a party. The Marine was paralyzed by the assault.
The grocery store incident revived the “Klantee” label on Twitter over the weekend.
No arrests have been made and the suspect’s identity has not been released.
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