Safeway apologizes after calling police on African-American woman who was helping homeless

A South Bay woman is considering legal action against Safeway after she claims she was a victim of racial profiling. Erika Martin said employees called police accusing her of shoplifting when she was there to give food to a homeless man and his dog.

The incident happened on July 8. Employees called Mountain View Police and said Martin fit the description of a woman shoplifting with an African-American man. The Mercury News first reported the story. 

“I was like, 'Are you serious?' ” said Martin. “It was embarrassing. I was telling them I didn't steal anything and I didn't do anything.”

Martin said she never got out of her car. Her sister, who was there to hand out care packages to the homeless, captured the police questioning on Facebook Live. 

“It makes me feel angry and very disappointed this is the kind of world that we live in,” said Martin. “You can't just go places because you are African American. Someone will always be watching you.”

Employees suspected her sister's child of also stealing. Police searched her sister's car. Martin said, the only reason their children entered the store was for the free cookies.

Police ultimately cleared them of any crime. Martin, who is a contract worker at Google, sees it as classic case of racial profiling.

“Just because I’m African American doesn't mean I know that person or associate with that person,” said Martin. 

Safeway has since apologized. In a statement to KTVU, the company said, “Safeway is committed to fostering an inclusive environment and treating everyone with courtesy, dignity, and respect. We have longstanding policies prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race.”

It went on to say the company will be rolling out implicit bias training for employees soon.

Martin said she no longer feels comfortable shopping at Safeway and hopes by sharing her experience it will teach people to think differently.

“Don’t judge a book by its cover -- not cover but color,” said Martin. “You can't judge a person by their color. You don't know what that person has been through. If you don't see a crime, don't call the cops on people.”

Mountain View Police said they apologized to the family for the inconvenience but said the officers followed protocol by checking into the report of a theft.