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Student’s racial profiling charge goes national

August 10, 2018

A student from a New Orleans university who was on a school-related cultural trip to New Mexico had a run-in last week with a Santa Fe Allsup’s employee that made national news.

As he was shopping at an Allsup’s convenience store on Cerrillos Road near the Railyard, Jordan McDowell told The New Mexican in an email, he was “harassed, racially profiled and discriminated against.” Employees called him “sneaky” for picking things up and putting them down as he walked around the store, he said in the email, and then one worker called police. “I have video of explicit racism,” he said.

A cellphone video taken by McDowell shows an Allsup’s employee on the phone, saying, “I want him out of the store right now.” After a pause, she continues: “Because he’s being arrogant. Because he’s black.”

“Oh, so I’m arrogant because I’m black,” McDowell says in the video.

His story caught the attention of national news media ranging from Newsweek to the online HuffPost.

Santa Fe police spokesman Greg Gurulé on Thursday confirmed the department was notified by 911 operators of a call from the Allsup’s store Aug. 3. However, Gurulé said, the sergeant on duty that night decided not to send an officer because the call didn’t meet the standards for a response.

“We do take calls seriously,” Gurulé said in an email, “but in this case, we believe the Sgt. made the right call since there was no threat to the caller or other concerning circumstance.”

Officer Joshua McDermott happened to be driving by the Allsup’s after responding to a call nearby about an alarm, Gurulé said, and was flagged down by McDowell.

Video from McDermott’s body camera shows the officer in his patrol vehicle in the store’s parking lot, speaking with McDowell, who says he was in New Mexico with a class at Xavier University of Louisiana, exploring the pueblos of New Mexico. He was shopping at the store, he tells McDermott, when one of the Allsup’s clerks told him he was “looking sketchy” because he was picking up merchandise and then placing it back on the shelves.

“I told her, there was three people in here before me, and they did the same thing as me, so why am I looking sketchy?” McDowell says.

“I don’t know if there’s laws against me picking stuff up and putting it down,” he tells the officer. “Like I said, you can go over any camera. It’s not like I put anything in my pockets. I’ve got nothing to hide.”

McDermott says he doesn’t have any reason to think the student did anything illegal and that he’s free to go.

The officer tells McDowell it was nice to meet him, then gets out of his car to speak with the Allsup’s employee.

The clerk defends her actions.

“He got bent out of shape because we were keeping an eye on his [expletive], just like I do everybody that walks in here,” she tells McDermott.

The student was being an “arrogant little kid,” she adds.

“You know I’m going to keep an eye on you because that’s my job,” the clerk says. “And he’s not the only one that I do that … to. Because you see all the Natives that walk in here, the drunks or whoever.”

The officer tells the clerk he has no reason to take further action and then speaks briefly with McDowell before the video ends.

McDowell tells the officer he’d shopped at the store before because it was close to his hotel. “Is it cool that I come back?” he asks. “I don’t want to deal with racism again.”

McDermott replies, “She says they don’t want you back in there, but they need to formally trespass you in, and tell you. …. It’s their private property, and they can say that. …

“We operate off a thing called the Constitution,” McDermott adds with a laugh. “Reasonable suspicion and probable cause and the Fourth Amendment.”

Allsup’s corporate offices did not respond to a request for comment on the issue Thursday.

City spokesman Matt Ross lauded the Santa Fe Police Department’s response to the incident.

“The officer handled it exactly as we would want him to,” Ross said. “He assessed the situation, realized there was nothing there, and he didn’t do anything. You hate to see this kind of thing come to Santa Fe.”

Reporter Tripp Stelnicki contributed to this report.

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