Black Georgia lawmaker says white man told her to 'go back' to where she came from

The man has come forward to confirm there was a confrontation over the number of items she had in the express lane, but denies he ever said "go back."
Image: Erica Thomas
From left,Georgia House Democratic Caucus Rep. Renitta Shannon, Rep. Erica Thomas, Rep. Park Cannon, D-Atlanta, and Rep. Sandra Scott, hold a news conference on May 7, 2019 in Atlanta.Bob Andres / Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP file

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By Minyvonne Burke

A black Georgia state lawmaker said a white man cursed at her in front of her young daughter and told her to "go back" to where she came from because he thought she had too many items in the express checkout line at a grocery store.

The man has come forward to identify himself and confirm the confrontation over the express lane, but denies he ever said "go back."

Erica Thomas, 31, who said she is nine months pregnant, said in a tearful Facebook Live video on Friday that the man verbally assaulted her because he thought she had too many items in an express aisle for 10 items or less at a Publix supermarket.

Thomas, a state representative from Austell in the Atlanta area, said she had 15 items in her cart, but her daughter wanted to purchase five of the items herself. Thomas also said she explained to the man that she was pregnant and could not stand for too long.

"He said, 'I don't care. You're a lazy son of a b----. You need to get the f--- out of here. Go back where you came from,'" Thomas told her Facebook followers.

"It hurt me so bad because everything in me just wanted to tell him who I am. But I couldn't get anything out," she said.

She said the man "kept going on and on" until a store employee intervened and asked him to leave.

Thomas said in a tweet that her husband was not there to defend her because he is active military "serving the country I came from USA!"

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In a bizarre twist, during a press conference Thomas was holding on Saturday in the parking lot of the Publix where the incident occurred, the man who confronted her interrupted the event to identify and defend himself.

In video caught by NBC affiliate WXIA in Atlanta, Eric Sparkes told the gathered media he did say "b----" in his verbal altercation with Thomas, but disputes he ever said "go back to where you came from."

Sparkes defended himself by saying he is Cuban, votes Democratic and does not support President Donald Trump. He said he likely voted for Thomas if he lives in her district.

“Her words stating on Twitter and on video stating that I told her she needs to go back to where she came from aren’t true," Sparkes said, reported WXIA. "I am Cuban. I am not white. I am white, but I am Cuban.”

After the Saturday confrontation with Sparkes, Thomas stood by her original account. “He said 'go back,' you know, those types of words," she told WXIA. "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 decided to share her story "because people are getting really out of control."

"I just had to tell people what's going on in this world. And I know y'all see Ilhan Omar," Thomas said, referring to a Minnesota congresswoman who is a Somali immigrant. "And y'all see all this stuff about 'send her back,'" she said in her Facebook video, saying it's "inciting so much hate."

On Wednesday, at a rally Trump held in North Carolina, a crowd chanted "Send her back!" after he began talking about Omar.

Just days before, Trump in a series of tweets bashed Omar and three other female, progressive Democratic representatives — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.; Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass.; and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich. — telling them to "go back" and try to fix the "crime infested places" they "originally came from. "

All four of the congresswomen are American citizens and all except Omar were born in the U.S.

After Thomas shared her story on Facebook, the hashtag "IStandwithErica" began to trend on Twitter with lawmakers showing their support for her.

"Both @realDonaldTrump and @GOP have grossly underestimated the number of Americans who have experienced the racist 'go back' insult," Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., tweeted. "We all know how it hurts. And we are going to vote. I predict a Dem wave in 2020, just like we had in 2018."

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio wrote: "I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: It begins with a tweet. Then a chant. Now a racist attack on a 9-month pregnant lawmaker and military wife just trying to feed her family. #IStandWithErica."

Thomas told WXIA that she has filed a police report on the incident.

CORRECTION (July 22, 2019, 1:48 p.m. ET): An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of the man involved in the confrontation. He is Eric Sparkes, not Sparks.