The ‘racial profiling’ of a boy at Myer in Perth is common experience for many Aboriginal shoppers

Jaylen Garlett. Supplied.
  • The deployment of security staff at Myer in Perth because a teenager was in a fitting room alone has been called racial profiling.
  • Myer called it a “misunderstanding”, but the father of the boy isn’t satisfied with the response from the financially beleaguered department store chain.
  • The case has caused a flood of comment on social media with people reporting similar incidents involving indigenous people.

Shem Garlett was with his son, Jaylen, at Myer in central Perth shopping for a shirt for the teenager when security was called because, staff said, he was alone in a fitting room.

A sales assistant was helping the 16-year-old find a shirt to go with a suit he had bought elsewhere when his father had to leave the change room to get a phone signal to send a text message.

“While I was texting I heard a call over the intercom calling for security to attend the men’s formal wear fitting room,” wrote Shem Garlett in a letter he later sent to Myer.

“I asked the lady at the service desk if everything was OK. She told me that there was a boy unaccompanied in the change rooms that didn’t have anything to try on so she called security.”

Garlett says there were at least 10 staff including security in the area within 30 seconds.

“I advised the lady that she had called a security alert for my son and explained he was alone in the change room because (he) was waiting for (the sales assistant) to get another shirt for him to try on,” he says.

“She seemed stunned so I asked her why she called security for my son. She told me that last week a purse was taken from the service area, expecting me to understand. I asked what this had to do with my son, but no response.”

“Racial profiling”

He then told her that this was not the first time his son had security called on him.

“For this reason I don’t allow him to shop in Myer or David Jones alone,” says Garlett.

“I suggested that she was racially profiling as the only thing she would have noticed was a young Aboriginal man, in her mind, appearing to be in the wrong place.

“This is not grounds to make a panicked call for security over the intercom. She did not witness any crime being committed.”

Garlett says Myer staff looked confused and embarrassed when they saw the sales assistant accompanying the father and son to a service desk where they spent more than $200 on a shirt and accessories.

“This is not an isolated incident as many of my Aboriginal friends and family have shared similar experiences of being racially profiled and harassed by security when shopping,” he says.

“I am not sure what your (Myer) security protocols regarding customer surveillance are but I’d suggest that security calls be reserved for when there is real evidence of a theft being committed.

“I would also suggest there are grounds for a complaint of Racial Discrimination to the Equal Opportunities Commission which I am prepared to proceed with if I am not satisfied with the response.”

“When will people unlearn racism?”

Garlett posted to Facebook a copy of the letter he wrote to Myer. The post has been shared 1500 times and attracted more than 1000 comments.

    One wrote: “I have delt with racial discrimination my whole life and it has made my life very difficult. Simple things like trying to get a job can be distressing and very frustrating. There are ignorant people everywhere!”

    Another: “It has happened to my sons a few times and we dealt with it as gracefully as we could at the time but you can never un-live that moment when you realise they are talking about your wonderful loving boy. It goes to core of your being. When will people unlearn racism?”

    More: “Yes people are unfortunately treated differently depending on our skin colour. I myself have fair skin while all my brothers and sisters are dark. For sure we were treated very differently while shopping. Attendants let me to wonder around without being followed, but my brothers and sisters were always followed and constantly asked if they needed help.”

According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, it is unlawful to discriminate against an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person because of their race, colour, descent or ethnic origin. Employers can be liable for the actions of their employees.

Tim Soutphommasane, Australia’s Race Discrimination Commissioner, said: “How awful that Jaylen went through this. We hear from many Aboriginal people who have experienced racial profiling and discrimination. I welcome the apology from Myer, and invite them to consider strengthening their efforts on equality and anti-racism.”

“A misunderstanding”

A Myer spokesperson says the store is committed to equality, diversity and inclusion.

“We want our customers to feel welcome and safe shopping with us irrespective of gender, background or sexuality,” says Myer.

“Myer has looked into this matter, which came about due to a misunderstanding between team members when the customer entered the change rooms without any clothing items. There were no other factors involved.

“We have met with the family and apologised.”

Shem Garlett says the manager of the Perth store has apologised.

“However, I am waiting for a formal written apology to us,” he told Business Insider. “I am not satisfied with the Myer response to the media that it was all a misunderstanding.”

The Facebook post by Shem Garlett: