Ask yourself. What would you do if it happened in your community? It’s something Arpana Sangamithra didn’t really stop to ask herself as she entered the nearby Issaquah Highlands Safeway on Tuesday night, July 26, 2016.
She said it was around 8:30PM when she entered the store and noticed two young women and a young child in the lobby area – the two young women had frightened expressions, which is what she said made her stop.
Arpana said the young woman wearing a headscarf tried to compose herself, but began to cry as she told her that a group of teenagers sitting outside the store had yelled ‘ISIS’ at her. She explained that her friend confronted the group, asking them why they would do that – that the teens at first ignored her friend, then laughed at her, saying a guy in a truck had said it and to go talk to him. Then the group said, “What are you going to do about it?”
A witness to the incident, Johnna Masterson, said what occurred was awful. She said the boys in the group were the main instigators – ridiculing and swearing at the young women and child. Johnna said the males were loud as they taunted and made fun of the women, saying they acted “as if the girls didn’t have a right to be upset at their comments about them being ‘ISIS.'”
Johnna said even after the girls retreated to the store the group carried on loudly, “throwing around insults and profanities.” She said most people in the parking lot seemed confused, as she was at first – until she stopped and paid closer attention. She called the store management from the parking lot to report the incident.
Two Safeway managers ended up helping the women. Arpana explained they walked by as she was consoling the girl, so she told them about the incident. The managers listened to the young women recount what had occurred and then without hesitation told the group of teens to leave the store and to never return if they couldn’t behave – even threatening to call the police and have them trespassed. Then one of the managers walked the women and child to the end of the street as a precaution.
Arpana said what had the most profound effect on her was that while the frightened girl sobbed into her shoulder she said, “I don’t want them to get away with this. I am not ISIS.’ She tried to assure the woman that she knew it wasn’t true and that as a community, they wouldn’t tolerate this behavior – the insulting of neighbors.
Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to promise the distraught woman that the people who harassed her would not get away with it, but does believe we can mitigate the damage caused to the community “when we all speak up and defend one another.”
Johnna added, “It really was heartbreaking to watch.” She said she knows the behavior of the group is the exception and not the rule, saying the majority of kids in the neighborhood are “amazing, volunteering and working to make the community what it is.”
She said unfortunately, the incident has “shone a light on a very important, and very sad situation happening all over our country.”
Both women were shocked to have the incident occur in their small Eastside community, but know it can happen anywhere – and probably is. They both also realized they didn’t have to sit by idle – and both tried to help.
Johnna said the event has opened a conversation that every family needs to have – whether it is telling kids how wrong it is to treat anyone so poorly, or helping build the strength kids will need to do the right thing if they ever witness such an event.
She lastly added, “The only way to combat this hate is to raise children who refuse to allow or accept it.”
Arpana shared her story with the Issaquah Highlands Facebook group and said she was overwhelmed by the amount of supporting comments from others who feel as she does – that it’s important to step up and help – and say it’s just not okay to treat neighbors this way.
Most commenters seemed to agree.