Statesville man racially profiled at Belk’s department store

Statesville man racially profiled at Belk’s department store
March 03
13:30 2021

Ashley Stovall’s plan was to quickly stop by Belk’s department store in Statesville to pick up a pair of blue jeans, but instead he was racially profiled by an employee. Instead of outwardly expressing his anger and becoming defiant, he chose to use this as a teachable moment that he shared online for all to see. Now, the classy demeanor he displayed in the face of racism is showing others there is a better way to handle situations dealing with ignorance.

As a Statesville native, Stovall has visited this Belk’s location hundreds of times. His parents shopped there and he routinely frequented the department store to purchase things for himself and his family. On the day of the incident, Stovall, an art teacher and football coach, was stopping by the store after football practice.

Stovall said he was on the phone when he entered the store, having a deep conversation with a close family friend. He was asked by an employee if he needed any assistance, but he respectfully declined. He found some jeans and a cardigan and asked the same employee for a price check on the items. He went back to look at more jeans and was then approached by a police officer.

“It could not have been more than five minutes after I asked her what the price of the jeans were and I look up and there was a cop in my face,” said Stovall. “He was like 10 feet from me and I was the only one in that area and there couldn’t have been more than two or three customers in the store.

“That’s when he (the police officer) was like ‘Hey man, empty your pockets.’ I can’t remember his exact words and he didn’t say hello or there is an issue, it was just like ‘empty your pockets’.”

This was the moment where Stovall had a choice to make. He could have escalated the situation by becoming hostile and angry or use this as a moment to show restraint and possibly educate someone. He chose the latter.

“As soon as he said ‘Empty your pockets,’ I took a minute and told the cop that I was going in my pocket to go get my phone, because I am going to record this and he said ‘okay.’ I think the cop thought it was pretty much what they said at that point.”

After being asked to empty his pockets, Stovall cautiously removed each item from his pocket to show the police officer, even though he did nothing wrong. When Stovall revealed he had only his items in his pocket, he then showed the officer his Belk’s card, meaning he was a frequent shopper.

“Once I showed him my Belk’s card, I wish I would have turned the camera around to show his face, because his face at that moment was something,” Stovall said laughingly.

Stovall said it was his faith and daily family prayers that allowed him to maintain his composure during the ordeal.

“As cliché as this sounds, every morning me and my wife pray together,” he said. “We pray as a family every morning and what we pray for, of course, is family and friends and thankful for everything that God has given us. As the man of the home, I pray, so the prayer always ends with ‘Thank God for your grace and your mercy.’

“I just feel like it was His grace that covered my tone so I didn’t lash out the way they thought I would. His grace made sure that I came home that night and it wasn’t a situation where somebody was just trying to buy something with a $20 bill and they thought the $20 bill was fake and he didn’t make it home. It’s cliché, but being a man of faith is why I am able to talk to you right now and my wife isn’t planning my funeral, or I’m not shot or in the hospital. We are all aware of how these situations can turn out over something as simple as buying a pair of jeans.”

Unfortunately, this is not the first time Stovall has had to endure a situation where he has been racially profiled. He says as a Black man, he has to always be aware of his surroundings and is thankful he has matured now that he has become an educator, family man, and a man of faith, to better handle situations like this.

“I have definitely been racially profiled and watched in stores before, so I have been in those situations too many times,” he continued. “At this point in my life, as a married man and someone who goes to work every day, it’s not in the front of my mind as it was when I was 18 or 19 years old.  

“I don’t live that type of lifestyle to where I’m doing anything of the criminal nature and it’s sad because as a Black man, you have to become accustomed to a society that will view you differently based on your skin first and they don’t see your mind. They don’t see that you have worked your tail off to provide yourself with a brand new home, so your kids don’t grow up the way you had to grow up. They don’t see the struggle that I saw my parents deal with.”

Being profiled was bad enough to deal with for Stovall, but having to explain that situation to his daughters was even more devastating for him. He didn’t want to scare his children; however, he had to explain what had taken place because the notoriety of the situation had begun to spread.

“My daughter had to go to school Friday and she got up and told the class what happened to me,” he said. “As a father, that broke me down, because that’s my child’s reality. At nine years old, she’s speaking to her third-grade class about an incident where her father was racially profiled.

“As much as you try to work hard and provide a better life for your kids, they still want to put you and your children in this box that never existed. If you look at the data, it shows you who steals more and that’s the sad thing about it. This was just straight racism.”

The news continued to spread. Once Stovall returned to his teaching job, several children had seen him either on the news telecast or had seen the video of the incident at Belk’s. The school where Stovall is employed is the neighborhood school where he grew up as a kid, so he knows many of the students’ parents and grandparents.

Because he was shopping after leaving football practice, Stovall was dressed in sweats, a hoodie, a skully and of course, a face mask that’s similar to a ski mask. All the coaches and players on the team wear those same masks due to the weather and COVID-19 protocols, he said. He feels his dress, along with his skin tone, contributed to the employee making the false alarm call.

“I think it was a combination, because I feel like if I was suited up, they might not have called; they may have questioned me or looked at me a little different,” he said when asked if he thought his attire had anything to do with the police showing up. “The community that I live in, they don’t see too many Black men in a tie. Maybe they wouldn’t have called and that might have changed the outcome, but it’s still no excuse for the call.”

As the only Black male teacher at his school, Stovall is very cognizant of the way he dresses to work, which was the reason he was in the store to purchase more jeans. He said pants are a big issue for him, because as a child he did not have five pairs of jeans to get through the week. He had to wear a different shirt with the same pair of jeans to make it appear as if they were a different pair of pants to make sure they looked different and he didn’t get picked on.

After proving to the officer that he was innocent of what he was accused of, instead of leaving, Stovall wanted to know why the officer was called to the location. He went to the manager to find out who called, but was given the runaround.

“I wanted to know why and why did they feel the need to call the police on me,” he said. “I might have said this in the video, I was just in that store two weeks ago buying my wife a gift for her birthday with my daughters. Where I live there are not too many places to shop and I had been there many times, so I wanted to know what it was today and why.”

The manager never identified the employee who made the call to the police. The following day, the head of human resources and the regional manager phoned Stovall and informed him that the employee that made the call was no longer employed with the company. However, they did not identify him or her by name. The CEO called him last Friday and essentially reiterated what was said by the HR and regional manager.

Stovall says he took no joy in the employee being terminated. He says this is something that will follow him for the rest of his life.

“It brings me no satisfaction, because I have to deal with this forever,” he said. “So like today when I am in church, my pastor said something about it. When we left church and went to the grocery store, I felt uncomfortable because of all the notoriety and I don’t want people to view me and my family differently.  

“We try to stay in our bubble and what this incident did was burst our bubble. It created vulnerability, not just for me, but for my family as well. My mom and dad have to talk about it and my daughters have to talk about it and it’s not fair.”

Stovall said he does most of his shopping online due to the convenience of it. He said he definitely will not return to shopping at Belk’s if he does have to shop at a brick and mortar store.

Now that the video has been shared and viewed thousands of times, Stovall is proud that he handled himself with such dignity. He hopes the video influences other Black men to handle themselves similarly, which he hopes will prevent any possible bloodshed or unnecessary arrests.

“No one knows how they are going to act in the moment, but it comes down to this theory that I have, which is the Malcolm and Martin theory,” he said. “I feel like I handled it like Martin would have, but inside I wanted to handle it like Malcolm would have. I am thankful that God was able to use me in that way.

“As crazy as it sounds, I don’t feel like I was there. The words were coming out of my mouth, but in my brain, I don’t feel like I was saying those words. It was like a higher power was giving me the education to give to someone else.”

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Timothy Ramsey

Timothy Ramsey

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