An investigation was underway Monday into whether the appearance of a customer wearing a Ku Klux Klan-style hood at an eastern San Diego County supermarket amounted to a criminal act.
Shoppers at the Vons store in the 9600 block of Mission Gorge Road in Santee on Saturday took photos of the masked man and posted them online, drawing outrage from local leaders and civil-rights organizations that condemned the display of a key symbol of a racist hate group.
In a prepared statement, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department announced that it was investigating the episode, even though deputies were not called in while it was happening.
“Detectives … are looking into the matter and will pursue any appropriate criminal charges,” the regional law enforcement agency asserted. “The Sheriff’s Department does not condone hate or any acts of intolerance in our communities. We are a county that is welcoming of people from all backgrounds.”
Employees at the store repeatedly asked the unidentified man to remove the pointed white hood, and he finally did so while he was standing in a cashier’s line, according to Melissa Hill, a representative for Vons and Albertsons stores in Southern California.
“At Vons, fostering an environment of courtesy, dignity and respect is one of our highest priorities, and we work hard to hold everyone in our stores to these standards, including customers,” Hill said. “Unfortunately, an alarming and isolated incident occurred at our Vons store in Santee, where a customer chose an inflammatory method of wearing a face covering. Needless to say, it was shocking.
“Several members of our team asked the customer to remove it, and all requests were ignored until the customer was in the checkout area,” Hill said. “This was a disturbing incident for our associates and customers, and we are reviewing with our team how to best handle such inappropriate situations in the future.”
On Twitter, regional director Tammy Gillies of the Anti-Defamation League of San Diego posted a photo of the man with a caption that said “Don’t know which angers me more — the person wearing this or the fact that no one in management @Vons Santee did anything about it.”
Santee Mayor John Minto released a statement on behalf of the city council condemning the man’s action.
“There was an incident in Santee on Saturday where citizens photographed a male wearing attire that depicted a symbol of hatred,” Minto wrote. “The citizens and Vons employees took steps to address the situation. Many thanks to all who stepped forward to curtail this sad reminder of intolerance. Santee, its leaders, and I will not tolerate such behavior. 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 Jacob, who represents Santee and other East County communities, also issued a statement denouncing the man’s behavior.
“The images I’ve seen are abhorrent,” Jacob said. “This blatant racism has 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.”
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