‘Your staff cannot presume criminality on the basis of someone’s skin.’

A Melbourne woman has written an open letter to Priceline on Facebook complaining of being racially profiled

Hiwot Birhane, who is of Ethiopian background, and six friends, went to the shop to buy false eyelashes and makeup.

“As we browsed, enjoying each other’s company, we heard a call for ‘extra-security to the front of the store’ made over the speaker,” Birhane wrote. “We laughed knowing that the call was more likely than not a reaction to our presence in the store. We are all too aware of the ways in which we, as young African women, are perceived.

“At around 5:00pm my friend went up to the cash register to pay for false eyelashes. At this point we noted two security guards at the entrance of the store. There was no security guard presence at the front of the door when we entered.

“As our friend paid for her lashes we noticed the security guard let two white women and an Asian woman exit the store without searching their bags.

“The next woman to exit the store was black and her bag was searched. We then exited the store and all five of us were searched by the security guard and Marie (the acting store manager at the time).”

Birhane wrote that she sought clarification from both Marie and a regional manager, Rochelle, but was not satisfied with Priceline’s response.

“Calling extra security on a group of black girls for no apparent reason except for the colour of their skin is unjustifiable,” she wrote.

“Your staff cannot presume criminality on the basis of someone’s skin. And when they do you, as a company, have an obligation to properly investigate and take the appropriate action.

“This was a humiliating experience; I never thought that I’d feel like a second class citizen.”

The Daily Mail initially reported that the Highpoint store was a Priceline Pharmacy, but a spokesperson for API pointed out to the AJP today that it is a Priceline.

However, they said that API has responded to the complaint as Priceline Pharmacy in its apology to Birhane as the brand includes both types of store.

A spokesperson told Yahoo7 that Birhane’s experience was “highly regrettable”.

“We wholeheartedly apologise for the experience of the customers involved including Ms Birhane,” the spokesperson told the AJP today.

“Priceline does not condone nor engage in racial profiling. Bag checks are unfortunately necessary in retail and we will work to make all customers feel included by educating our teams to ensure this, and all other customer contact, is done openly and consistently.

“Priceline does, and will continue to, support all women from various different backgrounds and ages through our various sponsorships, ambassadors and charity partners.

“We have tried to contact Ms Birhane to discuss the situation, our approach and apologise on behalf of everyone involved. We hope to have the opportunity of talking with her at her convenience.”

The spokesperson also told Yahoo7 that Marie was “highly distressed” that she had been accused of racial profiling, and that Priceline felt education would be more useful than punitive action towards Priceline employees.

Image: Hiwot Birhane, via Facebook.

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  1. Man

    it’s a disgrace how they were treated! Legal action should be taken for those responsible, it’s unfair and it does make one feel like a second or third class citizen.

    • Ronky

      Did you even read the story, or just the sensationalist headline? There is nothing in the story or any of the links to show that racial prejudice was the reason for the bag checks. No doubt the exact same thing would happen if a group of seven white girls came in as a group and browsed the false eyelashes and makeup, items notoriously easy to shoplift, relatively expensive and very frequently stolen.

  2. Andrew

    Easy solution to this.

    “Can I check your bag?”

    “No” and keep walking.

    • Ronky

      Unless the shopkeeper is certain that you have stolen something. Then he can legally arrest you and search you using reasonably necessary force.

  3. Kitty

    Shop lifters come in all shapes and ‘colours’. You could be dressed smartly in a suit or you could look like the stereotypical drug addict. As long as you act suspicious to my eyes when I’m on duty, I would call for extra security as per store policy and procedure, whether you are Caucasian, Indian, Chinese or Aboriginal, 4 feet tall or 6 feet tall, male or female, end of story.

    From the above reporting, it says that security was called while they were browsing. I imagine the group’s behaviour roused concern of the staff on duty. Otherwise, IF the staff were calling security purely based on their skin colour, they would have called security as soon as the group walked into the store, won’t they?

    Personally, I could not even have told the the person in the picture is of ‘black’ origin, not even with the national flag giving me hints. My first impression was that ‘this is a really beautiful face’.

    And, like I said earlier, shop lifters come in all shapes and colours, including people who are beautiful like a fashion model (personal opinion). You can’t judge a book by its cover! End rant.

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