A woman sounded a false alarm when she alerted police after being suspicious of a black Marietta man with two white children at a local Walmart.
Corey Lewis, who runs a youth mentorship program, had to explain to Cobb police officers that the children, a brother and sister, were clients of his, and that he had taken them on an afternoon outing to grab sandwiches at the Subway inside the Chastain Meadows Walmart — with their parents’ permission.
The incident began about 5 p.m. Sunday after Lewis and the children, ages 6 and 10, exited the store.
“As we were leaving, I noticed there was a lady who was watching us,” he said.
The woman, who was white, followed them to their car and demanded to speak with the children to “make sure they were all right.”
“I asked why they wouldn’t be,” Lewis said. “I assured her that we were OK.”
The woman then told him she wished to speak with the little girl “to make sure she knew who I was,” Lewis said, adding that he couldn’t figure out why a complete stranger felt the need to question a child who was in his care.
That’s when the woman got upset and told him she was taking his license plate.
According to Lewis, she followed them from the Walmart to a nearby gas station and then to his home, where two Cobb police officers showed up.
He recorded the interaction and streamed it to his Facebook page.
“This lady followed me all the way home because I got two kids with me that don’t look like me,” he says in the video. “2018, you see what I’ve got to deal with.”
Police spoke with the children and then called their mother, who assured them everything was fine and that Lewis had permission to look after them.
The story was identified as a case of racial profiling on social media and was picked up by national news outlets, including Newsweek and The New York Times.
David Parker, the children’s father, said he can’t believe this happened in 2018.
“The call came to my wife from our babysitter’s phone and she didn’t expect anyone on the other end to identify themselves as a police officer,” Parker said. “It was like a brick hitting you. You’re like, ‘What just happened in 2018 in our town?’”
Parker approved of how Cobb police handled the situation, especially since they were called to the scene and didn’t know what was happening.
“He was wonderful. I think he was genuinely embarrassed,” Parker said of the officer who called him from the scene. “He was very apologetic to my wife that he even had to do that, but I think it was procedure that he had to follow … He helped diffuse the situation, and I think as much as he could, helped put Corey and the kids at ease.”
Sgt. Wayne Delk, spokesman for the Cobb Police Department, said both Lewis and the officer who responded handled the situation well.
“The officer responded to a call for service to check on those children,” Delk said. “He did his job professionally and the interaction between him and Mr. Lewis was a good one… Even though he was upset, [Lewis] was very respectful in his responses. This allowed the situation to be handled quickly.”
Parker described Lewis as a close family friend who works to bring communities together and erase social and racial divides when mentoring Cobb’s youth.
He said his children, who attend Davis Elementary, told him and his wife they were afraid Lewis would be arrested if they answered the cop’s questions incorrectly.
“They didn’t know what was going on,” Parker said, adding he and his wife hope to turn this into a learning experience for them.
He said most Americans incorrectly believe race relations are improving just because they don’t see everyday instances of bigotry.
“I don’t really think we are doing that well,” he said. “Perhaps this will do well to open up folks’ eyes that while they’re not seeing it, it’s still going on.”
Lewis said he has not received an apology from the woman.