A 27-year-old woman and more than 20 of her supporters returned to a Quintard Mall lingerie store Thursday to demand an apology for the woman’s being thrown out of the store on Wednesday.
That incident, its aftermath broadcast by Kimberly Houzah on social media with live video, took place after an alleged shoplifting incident that Houzah and others say involved an African-American shopper.
Houzah, who is also black, and another African-American woman were told to leave the Victoria’s Secret store by its manager, in a case of what Houzah feels was racial profiling.
“Inequality is still a thing,” Houzah, a traveling nurse, said Thursday at the mall. “If people are never held accountable for their actions ... this will continue. They’re going to think it’s OK.”
The store’s parent company says it has apologized for the incident.
The group Thursday, gathered in what was described as a peaceful protest, demanded and received an apology from the store’s manager. The manager who told Houzah and the other shopper to leave on Wednesday was not working.
Glen Ray, Anniston resident and president of the city’s chapter of the NAACP, led the group’s interaction with the store manager, and said they wanted an apology because Houzah had been “judged by the color of her skin, like it was the 1950s.”
Oxford police Chief Bill Partridge, watching the group from a nearby table, said he had an agreement with the protest’s organizers.
“They can speak with management, but this is still private property,” Partridge said. “As long as we do it the legal way, everything will be fine.”
The group then filed to the Victoria’s Secret storefront, where Houzah and her mother, along with Ray and protest organizer Landon Brooks, entered the store and were approached by its manager. Several police officers in plain clothes and mall security staff watched from behind nearby kiosks.
The manager, who declined to speak to a reporter, told the group that she was “very, very sorry,” and that Houzah’s being asked to leave on Wednesday was “not something that should’ve happened.”
The video Houzah took of her ejection from the store on Wednesday has been widely viewed on social media, but doesn’t show Houzah’s interaction with the manager.
In an interview before Thursday’s confrontation at the mall, Houzah said she’d gone to the store alone, and never spoke to the other shopper who was allegedly caught shoplifting.
Houzah said she “heard the ruckus” while browsing in a corner of the store near the other black woman who was asked to leave. The two had friendly conversation about the products for sale in the store, Houzah said, but did not know each other.
Houzah said she saw another black woman hurriedly leave the store. That’s when the store’s manager asked if she and the other shopper had come in with the woman who’d fled, and said they needed to leave.
“She zeroed her attention to the corner where the two black people were,” Houzah said. “She didn’t ask anyone else to leave.” Perhaps a dozen other shoppers had been in the store at the time, she said Thursday.
The manager also did not offer an explanation to Houzah when she said she didn’t know the foiled shoplifter, and didn’t understand why she was asked to leave.
“I don’t understand why, other than us being of the same ethnicity,” she said Thursday at the mall. “We never spoke ... we never made face-to-face contact.”
Partridge, in a phone interview Thursday morning, confirmed that an Oxford police officer was called to the store Wednesday around 5 p.m., hours after Houzah said the event occurred.
The officer took a report about a black woman attempting to shoplift by concealing some of the store’s goods in her clothing.
The report indicates the employee who gave it thought “two other black females appeared to be with the female,” Partridge said.
Quintard Mall managers watched the gathering on Thursday, but declined to comment on the issue then.
Daymon Ward, the mall’s general manager, delivered a statement by phone later, saying that the mall was “currently conducting our own internal investigation to better understand the facts of what took place.
“We take any allegations of discrimination extremely seriously, and are committed to ensuring that all of our guests are treated with the utmost respect,” Ward said.
In a statement emailed Thursday, a spokesperson for Limited Brands, the lingerie store chain’s parent company, said the company insists customers be treated with decency.
“We take Ms. Houzah’s experience very seriously and have expressed to her our sincere apology,” the statement read.
The company is looking into the situation, and “will take the appropriate actions as we’re committed to ensuring that everyone feels welcome in our stores.”
The protest group on Thursday also demanded that the manager who’d asked Houzah to leave be fired. A petition circulated online after Houzah’s video was posted had garnered several thousand signatures by Thursday afternoon.
The store’s manager on Thursday said that employee was “currently not on my schedule,” but that the company’s corporate office would make a final decision on her employment.
Speaking after the apology was offered, Houzah said she wasn’t completely satisfied.
“She hasn’t been terminated,” Houzah said of the employee who’d asked her to leave. “It won’t change how she feels. With that being said ... it’s just seeking justice, equality.”
Houzah said she was surprised at the attention her video had garnered.
“I’m glad I brought a little sunlight to the problem, but I didn’t think it would become a big, public thing,” she said, “Now I feel like I’m under a spotlight.”