Romani people in the Czech Republic complain to retailers of security guards stalking them when they shop
Security guards in several retail chains reportedly specialize in keeping track of visibly Romani customers. Being closely followed all over a shop is undignified and unpleasant for such customers and has been experienced by Romani community members such as the journalist Patrik Banga, former Czech MP Monika Mihaličková, chair of the Khamoro association Emil Voráč, and others - and Romani people who work as security guards also confirm these unpleasant experiences.
Official complaints help
Former Czech MP Monika Mihaličková has experienced this so frequently that she has decided to address the situation. For her the last straw was the behavior of a security guard at her local grocery store.
Mihaličková was bothered by the fact that the guard followed her the entire time she was shopping even though she has been a regular customer there for years. When the situation recurred and the guard was practically standing next to her as she unloaded her items at the cash register, she wrote a letter to the management of the Albert chain.
The company has apologized for the guard's behavior. The daily Deník N newspaper has reported on her experience.
"We apologized to the customer when she called our information line. Security in our shops is provided by external agencies," Jiří Mareček, spokesperson for the Albert supermarket chain, told Deník N.
Mihaličková says the feeling of humiliation there was so unpleasant for her that she will no longer be shopping at Albert and will got to a store further away where the staff treat her with dignity. "This is not about achieving satisfaction for me personally, even though the experience was very unpleasant.
What I primarily want is for these multinational chains to transfer the culture of how they treat customers abroad into our environment. Most chains in various European countries would never allow this kind of harrassment by security guards or any other employees," she explained.
The DM chain of drugstores is another where the former MP has had a bad experience. According to news server Aktuálně.cz, she complained about the approach of the security agency working at DM in a Prague shopping center called Šestka.
"My son and when shopping at that branch today between 17:45 and 17:58. Immediately after we entered the shop, an employee of that branch began following us during the entire time we were there. He came out from among the shelves and accompanied us into the shop from the entrance all the way to the rear of the store and then back to the front," the former MP described in her complaint, calling the employee's behavior inappropriate and very unpleasant.
The DM chain has confirmed to Aktuálně.cz that they received her complaint. "Ms Mihaličková was sent an official statement on 6 January 2021 and told us it was satisfactory. We contacted the management of the security agency and that particular member of the guard team was familiarized once again with the behavioral principles that the DM firm has established with respect customers and was asked to uphold them," Jiří Peroutka, manager of communications for the chain of drugstores, described to the news server.
"Those agencies' employees are tasked with preventing shoplifting, but at the same time they must respect customers' privacy as much as possible. The staffers must assess each situation separately in order to secure the property they are guarding while behaving considerately and with dignity toward customers in the shops," Peroutka said.
The regional manager for the DM drugstores apologized to the former MP on the day following the sending of the complaint and assured her that the external agency's staffer had been instructed as to the behavior principles established by the chain. Mihaličková published the text of her complaint on Facebook and comments began to be posted there from other Romani customers who reported similar experiences with the behavior of security guards in various shops.
A normal part of life
Journalist and Romani community member Patrk Banga also described his negative experiences to Deník N. He recalled a situation several years ago when a saleswoman even dropped a crate of bread on his daughter, who was quite young at the time and then swore about his daughter's skin color.
A security guard then accused Banga of shoplifting and asked him to show him the content of his backpack. Banga objected, and because they didn't want to address anything with him on the spot, he complained officially to the company management.
After some time, the manager of the chain visited Banga at home with a letter of apology and a gift basket. "I think that if I hadn't written my complaint from my work e-mail, they wouldn't have settled it positively. When I complained at the reception desk, they refused me. Later they came all the way to my home to apologize," he pointed out.
It happens to Mr Banga rather frequently that security guards stick to his heels when he shops. He has begun to investigate why that is.
"One security guard told me, on the record, that they do this as part of their program. If somebody sees a Romani man somewhere, they purposefully focus on him," the journalist summed it up.
According to Banga, this is typical behavior just in the Czech Republic. Whenever he goes abroad, nobody follows him around the shops.
"For a Romani man of my age this is an absolutely normal part of life. When my children were small and I was buying a lot of stuff, several thousand crowns' worth at once, the guards would walk behind me staring at what I was buying. They did that irrespective of the fact that I frequently shopped there and we lived not far away," Banga sums up his experience.
Romani security guard asked to follow his own father
Milan Žigmond, who is also of Romani origin, has also had an experience with an unequal approach to shoppers - in 2015, after graduating high school, he began working as a security guard in a shop. He took the job for a couple of months before matriculating to university.
The managers tasked him, for example, with following one older Romani woman, alleging that she was a thief. He never caught her shoplifting anything even though he followed her rather frequently.
"Once they came up to me and asked that I keep an eye on a particular gentleman. It was my own father, which they didn't know," Žigmond described to Deník N.
According to Žigmond, his father had not been behaving at all suspiciously. He had just gotten off work, and because his job is reconstructing bathrooms, he was covered in dust.
The director of the Khamoro organization, Emil Voráč, has also had negative experiences with security guards - in addition to the fact that a luxury clothing store refused him service, telling him that he didn't have enough money to buy anything there, or the fact that a restaurant has twice refused to sell him coffee because he is Romani, it frequently happens to him that security guards in shops keep an eye on him. He most recently had to address such a situation was last spring in Karlovy Vary, when a staffer admitted to following him. "I've experienced that very often, it seems to be written on my forehead that I'm Romani," he said.
"My 15-year-old daughter came to me last year saying she wouldn't go shopping anymore because the guards constantly follow her around believing that she wants to steal something - we're raising our girl to be proud and self-confident, but this seriously deprives her of her self-confidence," Voráč said. His organization aids people living in socially excluded localities and he says he has many clients who complain of similar treatment.
"Keep an eye on the black woman!"
Deník N also reported that a security guard whom they called "Karel" (not his real name) can prove that such experiences have happened. He has been working security for several years now, and because he himself is Romani, it is unpleasant for him to be instructed to follow people with darker complexions.
"When Romani people enter a shop, whether they are dirty or clean, a bell immediately rings and I am warned that they are potential thieves," he described the customary practice to Deník N. "Last time it was a lady and they said to me: 'Keep an eye on the black woman!'"
"I'm black too, though," he said, shrugging his shoulders. "Karel" told the daily he understands it is unpleasant for customers when somebody is constantly following them and treating them like suspects.
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