AURORA, Ill. (CBS) — To buy certain products, the mask has to come down to identify the customer – that’s the rule for some customers at a local convenience store.
On Monday, protesters said it is racist. But CBS 2’s Jermont Terry talked with the owner, who said the rules are applied to everyone.
There’s a message a group wants to send – especially to anyone running into the Kwik Store Food-Mart on South Lake Street in Aurora.
“This is day six of Operation Shutdown,” said J.L. Harris. “Rain, sleet, or snow – we will be here.”
The boycott was organized by Harris, after signs popped up asking people buying alcohol or cigarettes to pull their masks down and look into a camera.
While the gesture seems simple, Harris believes the tactic is not fair – and Black and Brown customers are the ones being asked to comply with the rule.
“Well, he’s not asking everyone,” Harris said. “I’ve sent white friends in there. He didn’t ask them to take their masks off. They went in with no problem.”
The manager, George Galanis, countered, “That individual did not buy alcohol or tobacco.” Yet Harris and his supporters insist the store is committing racial profiling during the pandemic.
They have called Galanis a racist.
“No sir. I’m not racist,” Galanis said. “I don’t like people who like to use the race card.”
Galanis said anyone – regardless of race – trying to buy cigarettes and liquor must follow the procedures, which are clearly outlined at the door and counter.
“The procedure – we ask to pull the mask down. We check ID’s,” he said.
It is a practice Galanis said the store has been enforcing since the mask mandate for the coronavirus pandemic started. But he said he really started enforcing the rule when word came from Aurora police that businesses were not properly verifying the ages of those buying liquor and tobacco.
He added that removing the mask also allows him to see whether someone is intoxicated.
“Once you pull the mask, it’s a big wave that comes through and you tell that the person had too much to drink,” Galanis said.
As the demonstrators attempt to shut the business down, Galanis said the message is also confused.
“‘Shut him down,’ also, it’s like, ‘Shoot him down,’” he said.
Galanis claimed threats have already come into the store.
Yet Harris insists it is about equality.
“Black and Brown spend their money here,” he said. “That’s what pays his bills.”
Galanis said those who will not show their faces are disrespecting his rights.
“It’s not, ‘Take your mask off or take your business elsewhere,’” he said. “It’s just not complying. You’re not respecting the store.”
As the picketing enters into a full week, there is no doubt it has hurt business. But Galanis said he hopes people will now understand his side of the story.
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