It was ten o’clock before I finally left to do our family’s grocery shopping last night. In general, we try to avoid evening trips to Ralph’s. There have been enough incidents there at night that it is better to just not take the risk. But we needed to shop and this would be my only chance so I went ahead.

As I backed out of our driveway, I noticed two young men on bikes, men I did not recognize as being from our neighborhood. They were circling around at the end of our street, and I had to exit our driveway carefully because they were hard to see and they were swerving all around.

As I pulled out and turned the corner, one of the men stared me down pretty hard. I just kept driving, but suddenly my heart began to race as I realized he was pedaling hard to follow me. One would think that being in a car would feel mostly safe since you can speed up and race off. But on a residential street, there is only so much speed to be had between stop signs. There is a high volume of property crime in our neighborhood here, and confrontational robberies have been on the rise, many involving guns. I of course had no idea what his intentions were but I was scared.

I managed to only barely stop at the first stop sign and then drive fast enough through the next two blocks where thankfully there is not a sign and by the time I made it to Budlong to turn, I knew I had gained enough distance to feel safe. My heart was still pounding when I drove into the parking lot at Ralph’s.

My shopping itself was uneventful surrounded by mostly USC students, most of whom were buying alcohol. It was eleven o’clock when I was finally checking out, and while my groceries were being bagged, an employee realized that a bottle of cleaner I had purchased was leaking. I finished paying but had to stand next to the checkout lines for a bit waiting for someone to retrieve a new bottle of cleaner for me. It was at this point that I noticed a man being ushered by security out of the main part of the store through one of the unused checkout lines.

As he got a few feet away from where I stood, he turned to my checker and asked: “Do you have any small glass pipes…like this?” and he used his hands to show the size. He then turned to another employee and asked the question a bit louder. By now everyone is laughing at him, with my checker leading the way: “Can you believe he just marched up into here and asked that?” she said loudly, laughing hard and shaking her head. Others around her joined in the laughter.

The man seemed non-plussed and turned to me: “Do you have a glass pipe?” he asked, growing more agitated. “You look like you smoke cocaine…” he added hopefully. I was not laughing at him. It was actually just so sad that nothing in me was inclined to laugh. I smiled at him and said, ‘No, I am sorry. I do not.”

His eyes seemed to harden at this point. “You like to drink wine, don’t you. Your eyes look like you like to drink wine.”

“Yes, I like to drink wine,” I told him.

“Would you buy me some?” he said, stepping closer.

“No, I’m sorry.”

“I’m homeless,” he added.

“I’m very sorry about that.”

“Would you drive me to (I couldn’t understand what he said)?”

“No, I’m sorry I can’t do that.”

“Would you give me some money?”


At this point his face grew angry and his voice dropped.

“It’s because I’m homeless.”


“It’s because I’m black.”


We went around and around like this for some time, and he finally started to just tell me that I was acting stupid. “You’re stupid. You’re acting so stupid,” he kept saying.

About this time, I finally got my cleaner and so I turned to walk out the store telling this man that I hoped he had a good night.

As I got to the exit and pushed my heavy cart through the door, I realized that he was hurrying to follow me out. My car was a ways off and there was no one else outside. Realizing that this was not the best scenario, I stopped and pulled my cart back inside just as he got to where I was standing. I have been assaulted once before, and there is a look in a person’s eyes that terrifies me. This man had that look. I pulled out my cell phone to pretend to make a call at this point, and he came right back up to me and stood close. By now I had started to look for security who had been strangely absent since escorting him out of the main part of the store.

“Let me unload your groceries,” he said.

“No thank you,” I replied.

The security guy finally came over and stood next to me. I asked him to walk me to my car. He said that he would but then just stood there. I asked him again in Spanish and he said he would, but again remained standing. He waited until the other man finally left through the front door and motioned for me to go ahead. He did not walk me to my car. He stood in the doorway and watched me the entire time, and I looked over my shoulder continuously as I unloaded my groceries.

I drove home shaking.


  1. I may be speaking out of school, but I hope you won’t go grocery shopping alone at night ever again. We’re all trusting and praying that your presence in the neighborhood– and your life and witness–will be effective for that young man people in his situation for the long term.

  2. Yeah, I am remembering well why we had that as a rule in our family…

    Thanks for the concern and care!

  3. Erika…

    What a scary trip… I’m sorry you had to go through that. Even though I can speak at length about White privilege (and so, I’m sure, could you) occasionally I see the flipside of it.

    Obviously living in Portland is quite different than LA but during my time on the north side of Chicago, I became aware of how easily I felt assured of my safety walking down the street, strictly by virtue of being 6′ tall, 240 lbs, Black, and having no smile on my face.

    There were only a few times during my 8 years there where I genuinely feared for my life, and one of those times was because I was deliberately held at knifepoint because some Latino wannabes thought I was a gangbanger.

    But, like you, I was out late at night.

    I hope you can still preserve your sense of empathy and compassion while still making prudent decisions surrounding your safety.

    I remember being really indignant that, while living in Chicago, I couldn’t wear my hat tilted to the left or right because at the time that was a major set identifier. I was indignant because growing up in Portland the set identifiers were wearing either blue or red, and I resented the fact that I had to give up a style that I liked just because of others’ expectations.

    But eventually I had to just wear my hats straight, because I didn’t want any trouble.

    I know that being in your position means you’ll have to make some concessions for the sake of your personal security, even if it makes you wince inside (like locking your car door in an unsafe or unfamiliar intersection).

    I pray that you will continue to let the Spirit lead you in those moments, and that He will preserve you in accordance with his will for your life.

    Blessings to you and Doug…


  4. Erika, thanks for sharing this with us. I could feel my blood pressure rising as I read it. I’m particularly incensed with the security guard’s callousness. I am sorry this happened. I hope that you write to the Ralphs, letting them know what happened and the lack of security you received from their store.

  5. Jelani,

    The concession I most struggle with is the loss of freedoms–the whole idea that I can’t go to the grocery store at night. It’s like an imprisoning of sorts. But of course, I get why it is a good idea, but I especially chafe under those kinds of restrictions. When I lived in Chicago, I quite regularly walked on the streets that North Park security told us to avoid, and it bugged me how fearful students were made to feel about the neighborhood. But of course, I too got caught out one night after dark…only it was Chicago’s finest I had to worry about 🙂

    Thanks for sharing your perspective and thanks for all your great blog posts of late!

  6. Tyler,

    I did think about writing a letter. The whole thing unfolded right underneath the manager’s nose. He was just standing there, counting money or something. Not sure what kind of response I would really get but I suppose it is worth doing.

  7. hi erika – first love your blog. i appreciate your insightfulness in the simple things that happen in your day and in the life of your family.

    second – i know that ralphs from my sc days … i’ve had more than a few friends run into some trouble there, esp in the evening. i am thankful things were okay for you .. and agree with one other commentor about writing a letter but i’d send it to corporate and cc the manager…if only to have your complaint on record.

  8. I’m glad you are okay.
    However, unfortunate as it is, you are required, especially as a mom, to use good judgement. Please, don’t think I am holding you accountable for what happen, just the opposite. But, you must be aware of your own safety at all times.
    What saddens me is that you have the option to make adjustments in your life to avoid or limit such incidents. I on the other hand don’t because of color of my skin. I am subjected to such assaults,not only by random homeless people, but employees and managers of the store while shopping. Simply because I don’t fit their profile of a worthy customer. Your loss of freedom is only a fraction of what the majority of the population deals with on a daily routine while trying to survive in White America.
    I agree write a letter and speak for all people at any given time.

  9. Erika,

    What a story!

    I am glad you are ok. How scary! And–I can’t believe that security guard.

    This post will stay with me awhile.

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