A man confronted a black Georgia state lawmaker in front of reporters Saturday and forcefully denied her accusation that he told her to “go back where you came from” during an argument in a supermarket checkout lane a day earlier — and the lawmaker later walked back her explosive charge.
Eric Sparkes admitted that he cursed at state Rep. Erica Thomas for taking too many items into an express checkout lane. But he denied making the racially charged comment, after showing up in the middle of a television news interview featuring Thomas outside the Atlanta-area Publix store where the confrontation occurred.
“Did I say that? Is it on video?” Sparkes asked Thomas in front of reporters. He acknowledged calling Thomas lazy.
Sparkes later told WSB-TV that despite Thomas’ claim he is “white,” he is in reality a Democrat of Cuban descent. Sparkes said Thomas’ accusations were politically motivated.
“That’s all you said to me?” Thomas asked. “OK, because that makes you look better because everybody’s after you now.”
In a tearful video Thomas posted to Facebook, she said she was with her young daughter in the market Friday and admitted to having more than 10 items in the supermarket’s express lane.
“I decided to go live because I’m very upset because people are getting really out of control with this, with this white privilege stuff,” she said. “I’m at the grocery and I’m in … the aisle that says ’10 Items or Less.’ Yes, I have 15 items, but I’m nine months pregnant and I can’t stand up for long. And this white man comes up to me and says, ‘You lazy son of a b—h… You need to go back where you came from.'”
The moment was widely featured on social media and by media organizations as a clear instance of racism. Twitter assembled numerous posts from users who blamed President Trump for the episode, as part of its “Twitter Moments” feature.
However, Thomas later acknowleged, “He said, ‘go back,’ you know, those types of words. I don’t wanna 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.”
Thomas said she will notify the police and will seek store video of the incident.
In a statement, Publix supermarket said it is “cooperating with local law enforcement as they look into the matter.”
The incident came days after President Trump tweeted that four minority congresswomen should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places” they came from and then “come back and show us how it is done.”
In her video, Thomas accused Trump of inciting hate. During the television interview Saturday, she said Sparkes “needs to be held accountable because people can’t just go out and berate pregnant women.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.