For Andrea Kelly, it was a weekday morning like any other. On her way to work at a prominent neighborhood physical therapy practice, the 33-year-old African American woman stopped into Key Food on Montague Street to pick up something for lunch. She’s done this practically every day for the past year. The staff knows her. Only on this particular morning, she was stopped at the door by a Manager named Dalia, and the owner’s nephew, Ivan. “Can we speak to you for a second, we just wanted to know…”, asked Dalia sheepishly, “did you take something? What did you buy?”
Then Ivan stepped in. “Something was taken around the time you were here [yesterday].” This humiliating exchange took place in front of and within earshot of employees and patrons. Apparently, someone had attempted to purchase Keurig K-Cups. When their card was denied they ran off with the merchandise. Confused, Andrea said, “I don’t even drink coffee. Don’t you have cameras?” At this point, Andrea describes the conversation became more aggressive. Ivan noticed her holding a Starbucks cup. He snapped, “What do you mean ‘you don’t drink coffee’? You have a coffee cup in your hand!”
And so Andrea quickly calculated she must keep her composure. She was afraid the situation could escalate, that the police would be called. So, she slowly turned her cup, showing Ivan the teabag label and calmly said, “This is tea. And at this point, this conversation is over. You are accusing me of a crime and I want to take a pause.” Andrea laments the incident did not end there. Humiliated but with her potential lunch in hand, she thought she could quickly check out at a kiosk. Mid-transaction, the owner, Enrico approached her. “Hey, did you take something yesterday?” Andrea asked again, “Don’t you have cameras?” She finished her purchase and fled.
It’s been about four weeks since this deeply painful incident and Andrea says she “has gotten nowhere with Key Food corporate.” She says Corporate was “angry” but explained the Montague Street Store is individually owned, implying their hands are tied. But Corporate did ask Enrico to meet with Andrea on January 30th, a discussion she says, added insult to injury. Enrico apologized for making her feel bad instead of for singling her out. She had to explain to him, “You cannot just accuse people without doing research. You have cameras, you can look at the credit card transactions on the machine instead of picking out a person of color without doing ANY research.”
Andrea has attempted to follow up with Enrico in an effort to find some closure. During one conversation Enrico said he would discipline staff but didn’t feel comfortable firing anyone. (He is the store owner and also Ivan’s Uncle). In another conversation, she wanted to know if any policies had been changed or put in place to prevent an incident like this from happening in the future. She received no satisfactory answer only that Enrico needed “more time.” Then he “went on vacation.”
To an extent, Andrea says she “felt prepared for something like this.” She grew up in Cincinnati, OH and bore witness to the 2001 riots there. Her father is an activist in their community. But Andrea also lamented to the blog she is “very aware there are not a lot of people who look like me in Brooklyn Heights.” Which is exactly why Andrea is speaking about up now. She does not want this to happen to anyone else. In addition to reaching out to the blog and other news outlets, Andrea has consulted the ACLU, filed a discrimination complaint with the NYC Commission of Human Rights, and has sought meetings with elected officials such as Jo Anne Simon, Stephen Levin, and Laurie Cumbo.
NOTE: According to Statistical Atlas, a site that compiles US Census data, Brooklyn Heights is 72.6% white, 9.1% Asian, 7.9% Hispanic, 5.5% African American, 4.5% mixed and 0.4% other. More telling are the maps outlining racial and ethnic breakdowns block by block.
Photo Credit: Montague BID
This interview has been condensed for clarity.