LaVonda and Craig Bowden want answers.
On Feb. 28, as temperatures hovered in the 30s, their three sons – Jordan, 17, Issac, 14, and Zion, 11, and a friend – were escorted by security out of Crabtree Valley Mall, accused of loitering in the food court.
LaVonda Bowden believes her children were racially profiled, forced to leave the Raleigh mall because they are black.
Bobby Medlin, general manager of Crabtree, said in an email that the children shouldn’t have been kicked out. He reviewed the incident with Crabtree Valley Special Police Department Chief Devlien Bullock, who is black.
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Brian Asbill, a spokesman for Crabtree, declined to make Medlin and Bullock available for interviews.
“We have concluded that the young men involved should NOT have been asked by our officers to leave the mall,” Medlin wrote in an email response to Calla Wright, who heads the Coalition of Concerned Citizens for African-American Children in Raleigh.
“From our review, it appears that the young men were seated in the food court for about ten minutes. That was not long enough to be a violation of the mall’s policy regarding loitering,” Medlin wrote.
Wright requested a community meeting on behalf of the boys’ parents and Lynne Moore, who saw the youths outside the mall after they had been kicked out of the food court. When she stopped her car in an attempt to comfort them, she said, a security officer asked her to pull away.
Asbill said one of the security officers who approached the Bowden boys and their friend is white. The second officer’s race is listed as “other,” he said.
Medlin offered to meet with the Bowden family to apologize. But Wright said Medlin has denied the coalition’s request to meet with a larger group, including the Bowdens, the other teen’s family, Moore, city officials and community members.
“We are a community,” Wright said. “When one is in trouble, we’re all in trouble. We can’t be desensitized. We can’t walk away.”
Family considers options
Wright said the Bowden family is exploring legal options, including filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice.
The Coalition of Concerned Citizens for African-American Children wants mall officials to publicly apologize at a community conversation, not only to the Bowdens, but to all who were “publicly embarrassed” and others who have had similar experiences, Wright said.
The group also wants the mall security team held accountable, and new strategies implemented.
Medlin issued a statement saying the mall does not tolerate discrimination or discourtesy, and trains officers to meet or exceed state standards.
“I can’t accept the apology,” Bowden said, adding that her immediate attempts to speak with mall and security officials went ignored. “They questioned my kids like they had committed a crime, put them out in the cold and never called to inform me with the contact information they took from my kids, who are minors.
“If you do that to black kids and not to white kids, then I have to call it racism.”
She still cringes at the thought of passersby who might have thought, “Those black boys stole something.”
“I knew they would deal with this eventually, but not now,” Bowden said of her children facing racism.
“It’s very confusing because we were just sitting down, and white kids were sitting down, too, but they weren’t asked to leave,” said Jordan Bowden, 17, a junior at Leesville High School.
He said he saw four girls kicked out of the mall the same day. So was another friend. All are African-American.
“If it happens once, it will happen again,” he said.
Moore, who called Bowden about what she witnessed, agrees.
“What I saw was not right,” Moore said. “They were mistreated, made docile, and forced outside in the cold. An 11-year-old should not have to experience anything like that; nobody should.
“We can’t continue to have our African-American children sabotaged, mistreated and their constitutional rights taken away, while we spend our hard-earned money to keep their mall doors open. Enough is enough.”
For many, it’s déjà vu. In 1989, Southeast Raleigh youth led a boycott of Crabtree after mall management asked city officials to suspend Saturday bus service from Southeast Raleigh to the mall.
“Time passes ... and history repeats itself,” said Rukiyah Dillahunt, who boycotted in 1989. “The Crabtree issue is not in isolation. It is part of the racial profiling and discrimination happening to African-American youth around this country.
“We need to come together as a community, and look at racism – and we have to use that word. It’s systemic. If we fail to do that, we can’t move forward.”