Lawmaker at center of supermarket race controversy suggested Parkland school shooter was victim of ‘the system’
The Democrat Georgia state lawmaker who recently claimed in a tearful viral video that a white man told her to “go back where you came from” — then walked back her story, before doubling back down on it — sounded a note of sympathy for high school mass shooter Nikolas Cruz last year on social media.
“My heart goes out to Nikolas Cruz!! Some don’t know how to cope with being an orphan. I thank God everyday for getting me through the system in one piece. #FloridaShooting #mentalhealth #PrayforDouglas #prayfornik,” State Rep. Erica Thomas wrote on Feb. 16, 2018.
Several journalists and commentators flagged and condemned the post late Monday, including Harry Cherry, who called for Thomas’ resignation, and Ryan Petty.
Cruz, a former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who’d been expelled for disciplinary reasons, shot and killed 17 people there on Feb. 14, 2018. More than a dozen others were wounded.
On Monday, Thomas reiterated her viral claim that a white man told her to “go back where you came from” during a testy argument in a supermarket checkout lane, after walking back the claim over the weekend. The man has denied the encounter unfolded the way she described.
The episode, hot on the heels of a national controversy over President Trump’s remarks directed at four progressive Democrats, quickly made the rounds on social media.
Multiple news organizations on Sunday portrayed the episode as a plausible instance of racism using the lawmaker’s original claim, though she already had tried to clarify her accusations.
WARNING: VIDEO BELOW CONTAINS PROFANITY
Thomas herself acknowledged in an interview with local media on Saturday that she did not recall exactly what the man, Eric Sparkes, had said to her.
“He said, ‘go back,’ you know, those types of words,” Thomas said on Saturday. “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.”
“So, you don’t remember exactly what he said?” a reporter pressed.
Thomas answered: “No, no, definitely not. But I know it was ‘go back,’ because I know I told him to ‘go back.'”
That admission contradicted the tearful video Thomas posted to Facebook this past Friday, in which she said she was with her young daughter in the market and had 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.'”
Thomas went on to accuse 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.”
However, in a press conference with her lawyer on Monday, Thomas doubled down on her original allegation.
“He said, ‘Go back where you came from!'” Thomas insisted, saying the man “kept harassing me.”
“I was embarrassed, and I was scared for my life,” she said.
Sparkes has forcefully denied making the racially charged comment, and in a dramatic moment, showed up in the middle of a television news interview featuring Thomas outside the Atlanta-area Publix store where the initial confrontation had unfolded.
“Did I say that? Is it on video?” Sparkes asked Thomas in front of reporters. He acknowledged calling Thomas “a lazy b—h” because she had taken too many items to the express checkout lane, but he denied the incident had anything to do with race.
Sparkes later told WSB-TV that despite Thomas’ claim he’s white, he is of Cuban descent — and, like Thomas, is a Democrat. Sparkes said Thomas’ accusations were politically motivated.
Fox News’ Louis Casiano contributed to this report.
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