Georgia lawmaker claims man verbally assaulted her
WASHINGTON – A man accused of telling an African-American Georgia state lawmaker to “go back to where you came from” because she had too many items in the express checkout line at a grocery store disputes her version of events and denies that he said anything racist.
Tearing up in an emotional Facebook live video, state Rep. Erica Thomas, who has represented parts of Cobb County, Georgia, since 2015, described the incident on Friday in which she said she “feared for her life” after a white man “verbally assaulted.”
“I am nine months pregnant, and I can’t stand up for long, and this white man comes up to me and says…’ you need to go back where you came from!'” she said.
In a tweet, Thomas explained her husband was an active duty military service member and exclaimed, “I came from USA!”
But on Saturday, Thomas told reporters she was uncertain about the exact phrasing of what Eric Sparkes said to her at the Publix grocery store.
“He said ‘go back,’ you know, those types of words,” she said. “I don’t want to 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.”
Thomas said she remembered “go back” was part of their exchange because, “I told him, ‘go back.'”
Sparkes admits using profanity to insult Thomas because she had too many items in the express lane but denies telling her to go back where she came from.
“Her words stating on Twitter, and her video stating I told her she needs to go back where she came from are untrue,” Sparkes said a news conference in front of the store Saturday.
“I stated, ‘Well, you’re a selfish little b—-.’ I did say that,” Sparkes said.
Thomas confronted Sparkes during his news conference on Saturday. In that exchange, Sparkes said he called Thomas a “lazy b—-,” but “that’s the worst thing I said.”
“Everybody needs to know what you did to me and what you did to me as a woman that is nine-months pregnant. And you think you’re going to get away with this? No, you’re not. You are going to jail,” Thomas told Sparkes.
Sparkes said he had spoken to the authorities and threatened to call the police on Thomas if she did not “back off.”
Sparkes race became an issue during their confrontation after Thomas said she was defending herself as a minority woman who been insulted by a “white man.”
“I’m not white,” Sparkes said.
“I don’t care what you are,” Thomas said.
“I’m not white,” Sparkes repeated.
“Yes, you are,” Thomas said.
“I am Cuban, I am not white,” Sparkes explained later in the news conference. But then backtracked, explaining, “I am white, but I am Cuban. I was raised with a Cuban grandmother that didn’t speak any English.”
In the late 1960s and 1970s, Sparkes said he experienced prejudice, adding, “I’m not playing the victim. This woman, Ms. Thomas, is playing the victim for political purposes because she’s a state legislator.”
In her video, Thomas explained that, because she was pregnant, she needed a faster checkout line. Sparkes said Thomas told him she was nine-months pregnant but he told her it wasn’t relevant because there were two empty lines, “you don’t need to be in the express lane.”
Sparkes also said he was a Democrat and will “vote Democrat the rest of my life.”
Thomas stood by her description of the encounter with Sparkes on Friday and said she was “not surprised that he would deny that.” She vowed to “make an example out of him.”
Both Sparkes and Thomas asserted that security footage would support their version of events.
The incident described by Thomas gained national attention because it occurred days after a crowd at President Donald Trump’s July 17 rally in North Carolina started chanting “send her back,” after Trump criticized Somali-born congresswoman Ilhan Omar. Before that, Trump said on Twitter that Omar and three other minority congresswomen – who were born in the U.S. – should “go back” and fix their countries of origin before trying to make changes in the USA.
A post last week on Sparkes’ Facebook page referenced those tweets from the president and told him to “go back to Germany and his Nazi roots,” according to a screenshot shared by WXIA-TV.
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Democratic presidential candidates spoke up for Thomas as #IStandWithErica started trending on Twitter. Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, wrote, “Erica, thank you for serving your state and thanks to your husband for serving our country.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “let’s be clear: this is on @realDonaldTrump and every single person who refuses to condemn his vile racism.”
The chants at Trump’s rally sparked much controversy and condemnation from both sides of the aisle. On Thursday, Trump disavowed the chants, but on Friday, he described his supporters at the rally as “incredible people” and “incredible patriots.”
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Trump said this week that he tried to stop the chant but video of the rally shows he stepped back from the lectern and allowed the crowd to continue the refrain nearly a dozen times.
Contributing: David Jackson, William Cummings