Social media users and local officials expressed outrage this weekend after photos emerged Saturday of a male shopper at the Santee Vons wearing a makeshift Ku Klux Klan hood.
“Detectives from the Sheriff’s Department are looking into the matter and will pursue any appropriate criminal charges,” said a press release Monday, confirming an investigation reported late Sunday by Santee Mayor John Minto. “The Sheriff’s Department does not condone hate or any acts of intolerance in our communities. We are a county that is welcoming of people from all backgrounds.”
The 105-word release said anyone with information on the incident can contact Sgt. Claudia Delgado at (619) 956-4050.
East County Supervisor Dianne Jacob called the images she’s seen “abhorrent.”
“This blatant racism has no place in Santee or any part of San Diego County,” she said in a statement Sunday. “It is not who we are. It is not what we stand for and can’t be tolerated.”
In a joint statement on behalf of the City Council and the City of Santee, Minto decried attire that “depicted a symbol of hatred.”
“The citizens and Vons employees took steps to address the situation,” he said. “Many thanks to all who stepped forward to curtail this sad reminder of intolerance. Santee, its leaders, and I will not tolerate such behavior. Santee and its citizens are great, and this particular individual’s actions are not representative of us as a people and a wonderful city.”
On Twitter, regional director Tammy Gillies of the Anti-Defamation League of San Diego posted a photo and said: “Don’t know which angers me more — the person wearing this or the fact that no one in management @Vons Santee did anything about it.”
Other tweets said Vons security asked the man to shed the hood — ostensibly being used to meet face-mask requirements in San Diego County.
On Saturday, photos taken about 5:40 p.m. began circulating of a middle-age man in cargo shorts and untucked tan shirt wearing a Klan hood in a store’s produce department.
One photographer, who asked to be identified only as Melissa S, confirmed the time and told Times of San Diego what prompted her shots.
“I was in disbelief,” Melissa said. “He was behind me in line. Standing quietly. A man in a wheelchair [went] past and saluted him and he laughed. I took the photo because I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. I’ve grown up in Santee and have never seen such racism right before my eyes.”
A spokeswoman for Vons — a Fullerton-based unit of Albertsons — said in a statement Sunday:
At Vons, fostering an environment of courtesy, dignity and respect is one of our highest priorities, and we work hard to hold everyone in our stores to these standards, including customers.
Unfortunately, an alarming and isolated incident occurred at our Vons store in Santee, where a customer chose an inflammatory method of wearing a face covering. Needless to say, it was shocking.
Several members of our team asked the customer to remove it, and all requests were ignored until the customer was in the checkout area. This was a disturbing incident for our associates and customers, and we are reviewing with our team how to best handle such inappropriate situations in the future.
Protests at the 9643 Mission Gorge Road store were being organized, Times of San Diego was told.
Before hearing from Vons officials, Times of San Diego went to the store Sunday and verified that it’s the one in photos being circulated.
The store’s employees are represented by Local 135 of the United Food and Commercial Workers union. Their president is Todd Walters.
“The members at Vons #1897 are awesome, [and] work their butts off to keep Santee residents stocked up and I know that this person does not speak for the community,” Walters said via email.
“I am disgusted with this behavior! It’s bad enough that our members must risk their health every day but to deal with this? Management has a responsibility to ensure safety on the work site. We have told members if they do not feel safe, they have the right to remove themselves from that situation.”
One user on Twitter labeled the hooded shopper #KlanteeMan, referencing an old reputation of Santee as “Klantee” for its connections to white supremacists.
“I’m a 53-yr-old woman in Vista and if I had seen him I would have ripped it off his head,” said one woman on Twitter.
Another woman said: “I am outraged & angry. Please share the post, and let’s identify the racist POS behind the KKK hood. If you know something, say something.”
A KKK hood worn openly at a Vons in Santee, CA, near San Diego.
The area’s been a hub of white supremacist and skinhead activity for many years, earning the nickname Klantee. pic.twitter.com/uB5ai0wETB
— Nico Pitney (@nicopitney) May 3, 2020
“WHY WAS THIS PERSON NOT REMOVED FROM THE STORE IMMEDIATELY??? IS @vons DOWN WITH THE KLAN???” tweeted Touré, the author, journalist and TV host.
One Twitter user thanked Vons management.
“Several employees came over together and told the man to either remove the hood or he would have to leave, so he removed the hood,” said a tweet later deleted. “So troublesome in so many ways this is still happening in Santee at Vons. Disgusting!”
Dave Myers, a former candidate for San Diego County sheriff, asked in a tweet: “Did anyone report to the Sheriff?”
When asked why one should, Myers replied: “KKK is a national recognized HATE group prone to violence. If sheriff was serious about stopping hate groups, he’d want to know (he should know) who that racist is and his associates.”
Melissa S, who took the shots in the produce department, said she wasn’t the one who took pictures of the man with the hood off.
“I didn’t turn around to take more photos without [the hood] because he made me feel uncomfortable,” she said.
She didn’t want him shamed, however.
“Shamed, no,” she said. “I’m sure his face all over is shaming him. But a man his age should know better.”
Updated at 11:01 a.m. May 4, 2020.