Teen Who Fought Racial Bias Gives Reason to Hope

The way it works when it happens is you shrug, curse silently or not — and move on. I saw it happen to my father. It is what he did. It is what I have done, too, over the years.

It eats at you. It makes you paranoid in public. I can almost feel in any store I enter, even to this day, the eyeballs that follow me.


It is the story of Brandon Anderson-Thayer that gives me hope. No, not just for myself, but for my own children and their children. Maybe for yours, too.

 

He was a 17-year-old high school student at the time when he and two buddies walked into a Safeway at 1658 S. Colorado Blvd. on Oct. 14, 2008, for some after-school snacks.

They chatted up a school friend before making their purchases and their way out of the store.


A store security guard, though, raced up, grabbed the boy, handcuffed him and led him and his friends to an upstairs office where they were searched.


Thirty minutes later, after an interrogation in which a store manager told them they "looked suspicious" and were trying to steal beer, all three boys were allowed to go.

Brandon Anderson-Thayer is not my father or me.

 

He went after Safeway, first filing a complaint with the Denver Anti-Discrimination Office and, later, a lawsuit.

 

Turns out, the kid won both. This week, he and his lawyers reached a settlement with Safeway. Neither side, per the agreement, is saying much, other than the grocery chain will make contributions to the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance School, the Food Bank of the Rockies and South High School.

 

"Brandon's family is really community-minded. They believe that if it can happen to him, it can happen to anybody. They feel they are standing up for the community," said Mari Newman, a Denver attorney who represented the boy.

 

In a scathing report in November, Lucia Guzman, executive director of the city's Agency for Human Rights & Community Relations, which oversees the Anti-Discrimination Office, found that Safeway's actions against Anderson-Thayer "constituted discrimination in a public place of accommodation," that its security guards targeted the three because of their race.

 

"There is also reasonable cause," she concluded, "to believe that this is not an isolated incident, but rather a pattern or practice of engaging in such racial profiling."

 

He is 18 years old now, a freshman studying psychology at the Community College of Denver. I caught up with him between classes.


Yes, he had thought about just letting it go after it had happened. But then he thought of how he had shopped at the store for years. He felt, he said, a sense of betrayal.

 

"I always thought it was a place where anyone could go safely," he said. "I just thought no one should have to go through something like that."


Under terms of the settlement, he could say little more.

 

But I had one more question: Had he ever been singled out before because of his race?


"I know I have been watched before in various places," Brandon Anderson-Thayer said, "but this was the first time anything like that ever happened to me."

 

Maybe it never will happen again.

 

Maybe Newman, his lawyer, is on to something when she says the kid "is changing corporate behavior by holding Safeway out as an example to other companies."

 

My age, experience and cynicism tell me otherwise. It is, on the other hand, quite a wonderful thing on which to hang a little hope.

 

 

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