Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal
This story has been updated to reflect the proper name of the Council on American Islamic Relations.
Barney Lopez could hear the woman from across the Smith’s grocery store aisles.
“You’re a terrorist. Get out of here,” the woman, wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses, screamed at a female shopper wearing a hijab, a head covering worn by some Muslim women.
“I left my cart to see what was going on,” Lopez said.
The woman in the cap was pointing at the woman in the hijab, yelling “every racist thing you could imagine to say,” store manager Andrew Castillo said Friday.
“Pretty quickly, people started shouting at the lady in the baseball cap to stop and leave her alone, that she (the woman in the cap) was being the terrorist here and we don’t want her here,” Lopez said.
One shopper walked to the Muslim woman’s side to support her.
Others called 911 and took pictures for evidence, if needed.
Employees at the store at Yale and Coal SE stepped in front of the screaming woman, who pushed so close to them they could smell the alcohol on her breath.
“Usually, we get some people that are mentally ill and we have to get them out and they’ll leave. But she was adamant about getting her message across, but it wasn’t a message any of us wanted to hear,” Castillo said.
That sentiment and his actions, along with the shoppers’ and employees’ support of the woman, earned praise on Friday from the Council on American-Islamic Relations civil rights group.
“Normally, we would issue a negative release calling for a hate crime probe, but because of the reaction of the store staff, I think it was appropriate to thank the staff because it sounds like they went above and beyond what is called for in these situations,” said CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper.
About five store employees walked the Muslim woman to her vehicle, making sure she wasn’t targeted by the woman, who had exited the store but remained in the parking lot area.
The raving woman finally walked away.
About five minutes later, Castillo said, police arrived and attempted to track down the woman.
Albuquerque police did not respond to a request for information on the incident.
Castillo said the Muslim woman returned to the store a few hours after the incident.
“After it was over, we (staffers) talked like, ‘Did this really happen just now?’ ” Castillo said. “Everybody was shocked and freaked out, so when the customer came back and thanked us all for what we did for her, we were really proud of ourselves to make that kind of impact on somebody we didn’t know.”
Lopez said he’d like to see the woman in the cap get some help and an “education” that “treating people like that is not OK” and that it damages people.
“It was kind of difficult to shop after that, because I was hypertensive about the situation that happened. I was walking around the store like, ‘What did I come here to get?’ When I checked out at the register, (the cashier) was shocked and (asked) ‘What is the code for ice?’ Everybody there was shaken by the incident.”
While shaken, Lopez said the incident made him proud and hopeful.
“I think that it’s a good example of what we should be doing in our lives when we see someone being hateful to a person. We need to get in the way and speak out. Too often people turn a blind eye because it’s not their business. But this is a time when we have to look out for each other,” Lopez said.
After the incident, Lopez posted a picture he took of the woman and a description of what happened to his Facebook page.
Hundreds of people have responded to his post, overwhelmingly positive and supportive of the intervention.
However, a few of the posts turned negative – surprising Lopez with their intensity. They called him racist and accused him of making up the story.
But Lopez said the incident, with so many different people coming together, gives him hope.
“This is the America I know. The America I know is many different faces, many different creeds and many different people who work together,” he said. “It’s a reminder to be vigilant to create the community that you want to create.”