Man denies telling legislator to 'go back where you came from' at grocery store

Published: Sunday, July 21, 2019 @ 8:37 PM

Georgia State Rep. Says Man Told Her To 'Go Back Where You Came From' At Grocery Store

A dispute between a Georgia lawmaker and a man she accused of verbally attacking her in a Cobb County store dominated headlines over the weekend

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State Rep. Erica Thomas, who is serving her second term representing an Austell-based district and as vice chair of her caucus, is one of the state’s top Democrats. She posted a tearful Facebook video Friday afternoon. The African American resident discussed her encounter with a white man at an express lane at Publix in Mableton. 

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He took exception that Thomas, who is nine months pregnant, was flouting the 10 items or less rule. 

"This white man comes up to me and says, 'You lazy son of (expletive). You need to go back where you came from,'" she posted. "Sir, you don't even know me. I'm not lazy. I'm nine months pregnant."

At this point in the video, she’s bawling as she dabs her eyes with a tissue.

“Yes, I had 15 items, but I’m nine months pregnant, and I can’t stand up for long,” she said.

The video has been viewed over 117,000 times since it was first posted and amassed nearly 3,000 comments. 

Within hours, Kathy Griffin and other celebrities tweeted #IStandWithErica. 

Teresa Tomlinson, a U.S. Senate candidate, said “all sane people of good conscience” support Thomas. 

Many called on Publix, which said Saturday it was cooperating with local authorities, to release a tape of the incident. The company has not yet said whether it will — or whether one even exists. 

In a statement released Saturday, the supermarket chain said, “At Publix we are committed to creating a safe and welcoming shopping experience for all our customers.”

A day after the incident, during a planned interview at the store with Channel 2 Action News, Thomas found herself face to face again with the man she accused of verbally attacking her. Eric Sparkes, who had also reached out to the news station, had shown up to talk to the store’s management about the incident.

With Thomas standing a few feet away, Sparkes said he noticed she had about 20 items at the express lane and when he turned to her to complain, she “berated” him. He then said he laced into her.

“I stated, ‘You’re a selfish little (expletive).’ I did say that. That’s all I said after that, and I walked out of Publix. Her words stating on Twitter, and her video, stating I told her she needs to go back where she came from are untrue. I am Cuban.”

In a subsequent interview with Channel 2, Thomas said “I don't want to say he said, ‘Go back to your country,’ or ‘Go back to where you came from.’ But he was making those types of references is what I remember.”

The incident came days after President Donald Trump’s remarks that four liberal congresswomen should “go back” to their home countries — and after a Gwinnett County Democratic activist had a nasty run-in with a Trump supporter at a grocery store on the other side of Atlanta’s suburbs. The blowback for Trump was immediate, as both Democratic and Republican politicians labeled the tweets as “inappropriate” and “racist.” 

In the Thomas incident, some Republican sleuthing revealed Sparkes had made critical comments on social media about Trump, leading them to believe he was a Democrat. Republicans also criticized Thomas and other Democrats for sending out a fundraising plea on the incident that asserted “no woman should be subjected to this type of behavior from anyone while living their lives.” 

The Georgia GOP had some of the harshest words: “Raising money on fabricated stories, lies and false narratives. Just business as usual for the Georgia Democrat Party and those they put in office.” 

The state Democratic Party and other leading Georgia Democrats, meanwhile, have tweeted their support for Thomas and her side of the story.

“You keep lying,” Thomas said in a tweet Saturday night directed at Sparkes. “We have witnesses that will testify!”

State Rep. Erica Thomas Thomas said she was waiting in the express lane with her daughter when a man became angry over the number of items she had. (Photo: Bob Andres/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)(Bob Andres/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)