SANTEE, CA — A man was spotted wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood while grocery shopping Saturday in Santee, sparking outrage from local officials, residents and others on social media, and prompting a sheriff’s investigation into the incident.
Shoppers at the Vons store on Mission Gorge Road snapped photos of the masked man and posted them online.
The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department announced Monday it was investigating the incident, even though deputies were not called to the store at the time.
“Detectives from the Sheriff’s Department are looking into the matter and will pursue any appropriate criminal charges,” the department said in a prepared statement. “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.”
Workers at the Vons had the man remove the makeshift hood but did not make him leave the store, a company spokeswoman confirmed to Patch on 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,” said Melissa Hill, a spokeswoman for Albertsons Companies, which owns the supermarket chain.
“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.”
Hill said the incident was “disturbing” for Vons customers and workers, and that the company would review with the team how to “best handle such inappropriate situations” in the future.
“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,” Tammy Gillies, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League of San Diego, wrote on Twitter. “@ADL_SD would be happy to educate your team. San Diego is #NoPlaceForHate.”
The city of Santee, a suburb of San Diego County, has a history of racially motivated attacks and skinhead activity in the area, including a brutal attack by five white men in 1998 that left a black Marine paralyzed.
The city has worked hard in recent years, however, to rebrand the community and strip itself of the nickname “Klantee.” In fact, last year Santee hired a marketing company to help develop a brand to market the city to businesses, potential residents and visitors.
But when pictures of the shopper wearing the hood surfaced over the weekend on social media, people were quick to point to Santee’s not-so-shiny past.
“Shameful, hateful situation yesterday in my hometown of Santee,” Scott Caraveo wrote on Twitter.
“This is absolutely disgusting and makes me shamed to be from this town,” Tyler Moore wrote.
“This is my local Vons that I shop at,” Dan Howe wrote. “While I’m offended by this clown, I’m much more offended by all the people who did nothing but gawk, mutter under their breath or ignore it. Shame on them.”
In a statement issued Sunday evening, Santee Mayor John Minto said the man’s actions do not represent the values of the city.
“Many thanks to all who stepped forward to curtail this sad reminder of intolerance,” Minto said. “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.”
San Diego County Supervisor Dianne Jacob also reacted to the pictures and condemned the man’s actions. Jacob represents most of the eastern two-thirds of the county, including Santee.
“The images I’ve seen are abhorrent,” Jacob said in a statement. “This blatant racism has no place in Santee or any part of San Diego County. It is not who we are. It is not what we stand for and can’t be tolerated.”
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The pictures were captured a day after the county’s new facial covering public health order went into effect on May 1. Residents are now required to wear face coverings in public, including inside grocery stores, during the coronavirus pandemic.
Anyone with information about the incident was asked to contact sheriff’s Sgt. Claudia Delgado at 619-956-4050.