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ACLU sues Allsup’s over black student’s treatment at Santa Fe store

SANTA FE – The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a suit on behalf of a black college student who was visiting Santa Fe in 2018 when an Allsup’s convenience store clerk called police and reported she wanted the young man out of the store because “he’s arrogant, because he’s black.”

The ACLU previously filed a complaint on behalf of Jordan McDowell, a pre-med student at Xavier University in New Orleans, with the New Mexico Human Rights Bureau. In September, after investigating the incident, the bureau found probable cause for discrimination.

“People have a right to enter stores and other public accommodations without fear that they will be discriminated against or endangered because of the color of their skin,” Leon Howard, legal director of the ACLU of New Mexico, said in a news release. “With this lawsuit, we’re putting all public accommodations in our state on notice that incidents of blatant discrimination will not go unanswered.”

The suit names Allsup’s Convenience Stores as the lone defendant.

According to police reports, McDowell, who was staying at a nearby hotel while in Santa Fe as part of a program to study Pueblo history, stopped at the Allsup’s at 650 Cerrillos Road on the evening of August 3, 2018 to pick up some snacks.

After purchasing some Sour Patch Kids candy, he continued to browse through the store and was told by the clerk that he looked “suspicious and sneaky.”

The clerk called 911 and while on the phone McDowell began recording video of what was taking place on his cellphone, capturing the clerk telling the dispatcher, “And I want him out of the store right now. Because he’s arrogant, because he’s black.”

The video soon went viral and media outlets such as the Huffington Post, The Hill and Newsweek picked up on the story and included embedded video taken by McDowell in their online stories.

The clerk also told police she keeps an eye on “all the Natives that walk in here, the drunks, or whatever.”

The new lawsuit filed by ACLU cooperating attorney Richard Rosenstock in state District Court states, “The decisions to ‘eyeball’ and watch Plaintiff (McDowell), to order Plaintiff to leave the store, and to call the police to come to investigate him were motivated, in whole or in part, by racial animus directed against him because he is African-American. These decisions were undertaken intentionally and/or with reckless disregard for Plaintiff’s statutory rights, and constituted discriminatory conduct that drew a distinction between the manner in which Anglo and Hispanic customers were treated at the public accommodation (the Allsup’s store).”

The suit alleges violations of the New Mexico Human Rights Act and seeks an unspecified amount of damages.

Allsup’s has declined to comment on the incident for previous Journal reports about the case dating back to 2018.

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