Blanchards Embroiled in ‘Shopping While Black’ Controversy

The Blanchards on Centre Street is feeling heat after employees tipped cops that they thought a cognac thief had returned to the store. The man fingered turned out to be an African American professor who had nothing to do with the theft.

The Bay State Banner has the full story on the incident and repercussions. Employees thought Robert Johnson Jr., a JP resident and chair of the UMass Boston Africana Studies department, bore a close resemblance to a man who had stolen 20 bottles of cognac back in March. Police later questioned Johnson about the incident but he was not charged.

Blanchards employees told the Banner they don’t dispute the facts in the incident, but they say it was not a case of racial profiling but rather mistaken identity.

Please click through to the Banner to read the full story.

Robert Johnson, chairman of Africana Studies at UMass Boston, was falsely identified as the thief who made off with 20 bottles of cognac from a Jamaica Plain liquor store earlier this year and taken to the Area E police station for questioning.

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  • FartFace

    Sounds like it got cleared up quickly. If this happened to a white person it would just be someone’s funny story of a mistaken identity. I was once briefly detained because my name is the same as someone who was wanted in connection with a burglary, and my dad’s been pulled over for driving a car similar to one used in a crime…those events are just a funny stories now. I hold no resentment.

    • mijohn

      Sorry, but actually it doesn’t happen to everyone.
      And there certainly is harm.
      Imagine this: You walk into a store and the employees watch you like a hawk and follow your every movement. Or you ask to look at a high-ticket item and the clerk gives you a quizzical look and attempts to steer you toward something cheaper.
      Now imagine worrying about something similar happening every time you step outside.
      Then your worst fear comes to life when you’re accused and the police show up at your door.
      That’s what it means to be Black in America and what the average white person fails to understand: The daily grind of institutional racism. The suspicion and unequal treatment.
      This man was harmed in ways you may fail to understand or see, but I assure you, it’s all too real.

      • FartFace

        And what I’m say is that none of those are experiences that are exclusive to people of color, nor do they seem particularly insulting. Clerks watch me when I shop because that’s part of their job, and I get weird looks when buying expensive stuff because I look young for my age. I’ve been detained by police due to a mistaken identity issue. My dad and wife have both been pulled over because they were driving cars that looked similar to ones that had been used in crimes. Black people don’t have a monopoly on these annoyances. It’s just part of life.

        • Malena

          I had the privilege of taking a class with Professor Johnson many years ago and no one could mistake him for anything other than what he is – he’s dignified, polite, professorial. I’m so sorry that this insulting, racist event happened to him. (and yes, Fart Face, it is RACIST) Now I know I won’t be shopping at Blanchard’s again- fortunately, there are other choices, now way better than ever.

          • Kai Thorsen

            Do you have any idea how many dignified, polite, professional people of all races commit CRIMES? To say that a black college professor couldn’t POSSIBLY commit a crime indicates the location of your head.

  • Hugo_JP

    I read the account in today’s Globe. Doesn’t sound like racial profiling to me. This one individual looked like someone who had stolen from the store, they jotted down the license plate and let the police follow up. Seems a reasonable thing to do.

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