Police are investigating after a Big W employee allegedly grabbed a four-year-old Aboriginal girl and accused her, without evidence, of stealing clothing.
Gumbaynggirr man Michael Donovan said he took his daughters to the local Big W to buy them a treat after they had done well in school, on Wednesday last week.
Mr Donovan said that on their way out, after paying, a member of staff grabbed his four-year-old daughter by her hoodie and accused her of theft.
She was not injured, but Mr Donovan said the incident frightened her.
“As we were leaving, one of the staff grabbed my four-year-old daughter by the back of the neck and ripped her hoodie back,” Mr Donovan told ABC News.
He said there was “fear in her little face and she didn’t know what was going on”.
Mr Donovan said his three daughters were all wearing new clothes at the time, which were recent gifts from their grandparents.
SA Police are investigating the incident, which they described as an alleged assault and which occurred at the Big W in Port Augusta, a small city about 300 kilometres north of Adelaide.
Big W has apologised to the family for “any upset” caused.
Police have called for any witnesses to come forward.
“Anyone who may have witnessed the incident is asked to call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000,” an SA Police spokesperson said.
Aboriginal people ‘often racially profiled’
Adnyamathanha elder and Port Augusta local Vince Coulthard said Aboriginal people are frequently the target of racial profiling in shopping centres.
“You walk about the supermarkets here, and you’ll see some Aboriginal kids come in and they’ll be watched — they’ll have security follow them around,” he said.
“They’ve just got to stop. Aboriginal people can buy things too. And we can buy what they call ‘flash clothes’.
“We can walk around in new clothing, you know, just like anyone else, so don’t just assume that we stole it, because we don’t steal.”
Big W said that its employees routinely check bags and other items as customers leave stores, however the staff member involved could have acted in a more respectful manner.
Michael Donovan with his daughter.(Abc News: Gabriella Marchant)
“Upon reviewing the situation in our Port Augusta store, the store manager has acknowledged that the team member could have managed the situation more respectfully and has apologised wholeheartedly for any upset it has caused,” a spokesperson for the retailer said.
The spokesperson added that all Big W employees complete mandatory code of conduct training that requires “all team members to treat our customers, suppliers and community members equally”.
The incident occurred amid a wave of anti-racism protests following the death of George Floyd, a black man, killed last month when white US police officer Derek Chauvin pinned his neck to the ground with his knee as he repeatedly said, “I can’t breathe”.
Black Lives Matter protests have swept across the US, several European countries and Australia, where tens of thousands of demonstrators rallied against racism and Indigenous deaths in custody in several capitals this weekend.
More than 400 Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders have died in Australian police custody since the early 1990s.