How a supermarket spat became a ‘hate crime’

The media were far too quick to paint Erica Thomas as a victim of hate.


Topics Politics USA

Erica Thomas, a black member of Georgia’s House of Representatives, claimed that she was told to ‘go back to your country’ by a member of the public at her local supermarket. The other shopper, Eric Sparkes, berated her for having too many items in the express queue. In a video posted to Facebook, Thomas accuses Sparkes of making racist comments, inspired by Donald Trump.

The clash happened several days after Trump’s now infamous, racist tweets, in which he told four Democratic congresswomen to ‘go back’ to where they came from. The alleged Trump connection turned a minor altercation at a supermarket into a national news story. The Democratic Party of Georgia started the hashtag #WeStandWithErica in solidarity with Thomas.

All of this would be a perfectly understandable reaction – if Sparkes was indeed being racist and had used the words ‘go back’. But he didn’t. Thomas later clarified that she could not recall if Sparkes ever told her to ‘go back’. Sparkes denies that he made any racist comments. ‘I’m Cuban’, he told a local news station. He also claims his politics is ‘anti-Trump, anti-racism and anti-bigotry’. He did, however, call her a ‘bitch’.

The New York Times reported the story with the headline ‘“Go back where you came from”, Georgia lawmaker says she was told’. But buried in the report, Thomas is quoted as saying, ‘I don’t want to say he said, “Go back to your country”, or “Go back to where you came from”’. The quote in the headline has since been changed to ‘The hate is real’.

Thomas was undoubtedly the victim of an unpleasant tirade. But, ultimately, this was a minor dispute between two shoppers. It could have easily been resolved among adults. Instead, this supermarket spat was elevated by politicians and the press to the status of a hate crime.

The prevailing media narrative is that hate crimes are on the rise and that America is a country that is racist to its core. But when so many high-profile allegations of hatred – from Jussie Smollett to the Covington boys – are either hoaxes or at least are not as they first appear, perhaps the media should start showing some scepticism towards these kinds of claims. And certainly, newspapers shouldn’t run headlines that aren’t backed up by their own reporting.

Picture by: Getty.

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Ven Oods

29th July 2019 at 9:36 am

The worrying bit, for me, is the plummeting standards of journalism involved. Do subs still actually read the pieces for which they’re writing straps?

Hana Jinks

25th July 2019 at 6:13 pm

Troll-king strikes again, and this is one of his best. Lard-arse obviously stops counting at eight boxes of donuts, and is so insane that she thinks everyone wants to feel her embarassment.

Troll-king would be getting such a laugh out of these mad commies. Thanks for perpetuating it fake news. Special thanks to the guardian, bbc and the independent. The germans probably have a word for the combination of astonishing, horrifying and hilarious.

Amelia Cantor

25th July 2019 at 10:14 am

Know this, cisgender white male haters:

That stunning photo of a wombyn of colour and wombyn of size shouting into a megaphone is the future!*

You are the past!

*The photo is also the present, of course, or it couldn’t have been taken in the present. But the shouting is only going to get louder from now on in.

Hana Jinks

25th July 2019 at 6:21 pm

One person’s chanel-wearing, gluttonous hypocritical commie is another person’s shrill, deluded dyke-blimp l guess.

Danny Rees

24th July 2019 at 4:29 pm

Right wing logic.

Some hate crimes are made up means no hate crimes happen

Some rapes are made up means no rapes happen.

Gerard Barry

24th July 2019 at 8:28 pm

Hard to see how you can infer that from the article. It’s also rather disturbing that you fail to understand how serious this incident is: this politician (i.e. someone with power) used her position to intimidate, shame and slander a citizen in a very public way. I for one think she needs to resign.

Gerard Barry

24th July 2019 at 2:54 pm

Sparkes said his politics is “anti-Trump, anti-racism and anti-bigotry”. Dear God above, has politics in the US really been reduced to this infantile sort of identitarianism? Wasn’t there a time when politics in the US was about attitudes towards government (big vs small) as well as bread-and-butter issues like healthcare, education and so on? Now it’s all race, gender and sexual orientation.I wish it would bloody stop.

Regrding the indicent itself, I find it appalling how politicians (most of which are women of colour of late) are constantly playing the victim. Maybe as highly paid public servants, they should check their privileges. Ms Thomas needs to apologise to Mr Sparkes for dragging his name through the mud like this.

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