Stevon Cook, President of the San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education, speaks during a board meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

SF school board president calls out racial profiling at Walgreens

Stevon Cook asked to check personal bags at counter before shopping at Walgreens

San Francisco school board President Stevon Cook alleges that he was the victim of racial profiling after a security guard at a Market Street Walgreens store asked him to check in his bags at a front counter early Tuesday morning.

Cook, who is African American, said that he was carrying a gym bag and a messenger bag when he entered the store at 1496 Market St. at approximately 9:15 a.m. and was told by an armed security guard there to leave his bags “up front for security purposes.”

“I walked to the front and I saw a lot of people with their bags,” Cook told the San Francisco Examiner on Tuesday. “I asked him about the other customers carrying their bags. He said, ‘I’ve seen them before, but I haven’t seen you.’”

Cook said he asked the guard whether checking in personal belongings in order to shop at Walgreens is company-wide policy and whether it applied to all customers, or “just me.”

“He said, ‘It’s just for you,’” said Cook.

Cook said that he is cautious about “[chasing] any type of victim narrative.”

“I want our community to get past that, because we internalize it,” said Cook, but added that he wanted to draw attention to the interaction because “if it is happening to me, it is happening to others.”

“I had to say something,” said Cook. “It is harassment. It is still alive here.”

Walgreens spokesperson Jim Cohn said the company “firmly” believes that “everyone should be welcome and treated with respect at our stores.”

“We’ve apologized to the customer and will be addressing this matter with the third party that employs security personnel at our stores as we continue to look into it,” said Cohn.

Walgreens contracts with the Oakland-based security firm Bay Valley Security for its security services.

George Odhiambo, Bay Valley’s director, confirmed that the guard who confronted Cook is a Bay Valley employee. He added that he spoke with the guard personally and that it is not “company policy at all” to ask customers to check in their bags or personal items.

“The guard is trying to do too much. There is a lot going on in the store with people coming in with bags. I told him he cannot stop people from coming in,” said Odhiambo, adding that the Market Street location requires guards to be armed because it “gets a lot of activity” with some customers “becoming aggressive and shoplifting.”

“We can only prevent so much. I don’t know why [the guard] took it upon himself to do that, but we can’t have that,” said Odhiambo, adding that he plans to apologize to Cook. “I am black myself. I understand that when you get profiled, it’s not a good thing.”

Cook said that Walgreens “should be ashamed to hire security vendors that believe that a talk and apology” are an adequate response “when people are being blatantly discriminatory.”

“I think racial profiling is beneath us as a city and shouldn’t be tolerated,” said Cook. “They won’t be getting any of my business.”

lwaxmann@sfexaminer.com

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