‘Go Back Where You Came From,’ Georgia Lawmaker Says She Was Told

A black member of Georgia’s House of Representatives said she had been the target of verbal harassment and had been told “go back where you came from” at a grocery store near Atlanta on Friday.

In a video posted to her Facebook account, the representative, Erica Thomas, said she was “shocked” that a white man had confronted her for having too many items in the express checkout lane at a Publix grocery store in Mableton, Ga.

She said the man had cursed at her and accused her of being “lazy.” It was unclear if the episode had been captured on surveillance video, but Ms. Thomas said she had not recorded it.

“People are getting really out of control with this, with this white privilege,” Ms. Thomas said in the video, crying. “People need to see the hate that is going on in this country. The hate is real.”

Ms. Thomas had been scared to leave the store because she thought the man was going to follow her or “take out a gun,” she said. “You just never know.”

Ms. Thomas, who is nine months pregnant, said she is unable to stand on her feet for long periods of time. She said her 9-year-old daughter had been with her at the store during the encounter.

The lawmaker, who was elected in 2014, wrote on Twitter that her husband had not been with her at the supermarket because he is on active duty “serving the country I came from USA!”

Credit11 Alive, via YouTube

On Saturday, station WSB-TV was preparing to interview Ms. Thomas at the store when she saw the man who she said had confronted her. The man, who identified himself as Eric Sparkes, said he was there to speak with managers at Publix.

Mr. Sparkes told the station that the episode had started after he had decided to say something about the number of items in her cart on his way out of the store.

Ms. Thomas said in her Facebook video that she had between 15 and 20 items in her cart in the express lane, which was designated for 10 items or less. Mr. Sparkes said he was buying three items.

Mr. Sparkes, who denied being racist and said he was Cuban, acknowledged that he had called Ms. Thomas “lazy,” but said that had been the “worst” of his comments.

“This woman, Ms. Thomas, is playing the victim for political purposes because she is a state legislator,” he told the station. “I’m a Democrat and will vote Democrat for the rest of my life, so call me whatever you want to believe. For her political purposes, make it black, white, brown, whatever. It’s untrue.”

Ms. Thomas is a Democrat. Records about Mr. Sparkes’s party registration were not immediately available on Sunday.

Asked by the television station if Mr. Sparkes had told her “go back where you came from,” Ms. Thomas said: “I don’t want to say he said, ‘Go back to your country,’ or ‘Go back to where you came from.’ But he was making those types of references is what I remember.” In her Facebook video and on Twitter, however, she recounted that was what he had said.

In her television interview, she said she wanted him held accountable.

“People can’t just go out in public areas and berate pregnant women,” Ms. Thomas said. “Whether it was because I’m pregnant, whether it’s because I’m black.”

Attempts to reach Ms. Thomas and Mr. Sparkes were unsuccessful on Sunday.

Publix did not return a request for comment, but told WSB-TV in a statement: “At Publix we are committed to creating a safe and welcoming shopping experience for all our customers. We are cooperating with local law enforcement as they look into the matter.”

The Cobb County Police Department said a report had been filed and that the encounter was under investigation.

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