Be Careful Going Shopping: Racial Profiling in Everyday Life

AuthorColleen Sheppard
Be Careful Going Shopping:
Racial Prof‌iling in Everyday Life
   went to the mall to buy clothes, she was
unaware that before the day was over, she would be accused of shop-
lifting, detained by a store security guard, told that she couldn’t call
her babysitter, aggressively questioned by a police ocer, and then
f‌inally let go when those involved realized that she had done noth-
ing wrong.1 How did this happen? Shopping at a department store is
not an exceptional or suspicious activity. Neither is taking a walk or
a drive mid-day along a busy city street;2 working as a replacement
letter carrier in a wealthy neighbourhood;3 walking through a mall
with a friend to a cof‌fee shop;4 or taking a taxi.5 But while engaged in
these everyday activities, individuals from Black and other racialized
communities have been stopped by security guards or police ocers
and mistreated as potential suspects.6 Unwarranted suspicion that
these individuals are engaged in some form of wrongdoing, despite
the fact that they are doing nothing out of the ordinary, is the start-
ing point of racial prof‌iling. Moreover, in situations where Black,
Indigenous, or other racialized individuals are stopped or detained,
challenging the authority of the police ocer or the security guard
often escalates the risk of additional harm to the individual targeted
by the racial prof‌iling. So let’s begin with Jacqueline Nassiah’s story
as a starting point for thinking about racial prof‌iling.
Discrimination stories
Jaceline Nassiah’s Case
The Incident: Being Detained and Falsely Accused of Shoplifting
On February 18, 2003, Jacqueline Nassiah went to a large department
store to buy some bras to send to her sister in Trinidad. She had been
planning a quick stop at the store after work since she needed to pick
up her son from his babysitter. She wore pants with no pockets, a
pullover sweater, boots, and a winter coat. After looking around the
store, she tried on two bras in the change room, and ended up buy-
ing four bras in total. As she was leaving the store, however, she was
stopped by a security guard, who accused her of stealing store mer-
chandise. Based on camera surveillance, the security guard believed
that Nassiah had entered the change room with two bras and left
holding only one. In spite of numerous obstructions and interrup-
tions in the camera surveillance, the security guard nevertheless
became suspicious that she had crafted a plan to steal a bra. After
contacting a sales associate to conf‌irm that she had not left a bra
in the change room, he double-checked the room himself, then fol-
lowed Nassiah around the store until she had paid and was leaving
the store. It was at this point that he stopped her and confronted her
with the accusation of theft.
Nassiah was shocked by the accusation. She of‌fered to show the
security guard her purchases and receipt. He refused to look at the
receipts of merchandise, and instead insisted that she accompany
him back to the security oce. A female attendant was brought
into the security oce and escorted Nassiah to the bathroom to be
searched. Nassiah testif‌ied that she was asked to take of‌f her boots
and lift her sweater to show that she was not wearing the “missing”
bra. Despite no evidence of any additional bra, the security guard
persisted in his accusation, calling the police to report that a “Black
female” had been caught stealing. Already late to pick up her son
from his babysitter, she asked if she could call to explain her delay,
but was told that the only call she could make was to her lawyer.
About an hour after the security guard detained Nassiah, a police
ocer arrived at the store. Both the security guard and the police
ocer were white men. Upon hearing the security guard’s account

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