A 21-year-old Black woman named Julia Santos was followed and questioned by a white man who said he felt “unsafe” when she was picking up dog food from a neighbor’s house in Groveland, Massachusetts. Santos recorded the encounter from her vehicle, and posted it on Twitter on Monday. Since then, the video has been viewed more than 300,000 times.
As the man pulled up in a BMW convertible beside Santos’ vehicle to question her, she explained that she was picking up dog food from a nearby home. A notice that the dog food was available for pickup had been posted on an online town page.
“What are you driving up into Juniper Terrace for?” the man asked.
“Actually, if you look on the town crier, someone offered a bag of dog food, which I have in the back of my car,” Santos explained. “I stopped, I grabbed the dog food … and then I left and I saw you follow me all the way here,” Santos said as the man continued to allege that she hadn’t made any stops.
When Santos expressed that she didn’t feel safe because the man was following her, he replied, “I don’t feel safe with you driving around my neighborhood!”
Santos then pressured the man to explain his reasoning, asking, “Is it ’cause I’m Black?”
“I don’t know what color you are,” the man replied.
When Santos stated that she was Black, the man responded, “That’s good. Congratulations, you’re Black.”
Eventually, a woman in an SUV joined the interaction to defend Santos and ask the man to leave. “This is a private road, I’m asking you nicely to leave,” the woman said.
“I don’t like the fact that she’s in my neighborhood,” the man said just before driving off after a white woman in another vehicle berates him.
Santos has lived in the suburban town, which is 98 percent white, for her entire life. She noticed she was being followed as the dog food for her Pomeranian-beagle mix Athena sat on the back seat of her car. She was just a mile from her home when she pulled over to record the confrontation.
Santos spoke to the Boston Globe and shared that she feels the encounter, “represents where we are right now as a country” and is thankful the woman was there to defend her. “I have no idea what could have happened to me if she wasn’t,” she said. Santos shared the footage on Twitter with the caption: “I just got Karen’d?”
Police are now conducting a criminal investigation of the incident, and have identified the man in the video as a 65-year-old Groveland resident. Although his name has yet to be released by police, a source familiar with the matter identified the man as Paul Birkhauser to the Boston Globe. He will be charged with disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace, and will be summonsed to Haverhill District Court for a hearing.
Police Chief Jeffrey Gillen said to the Boston Globe he was “deeply disturbed,” by the incident. “The fact that a resident of our town could face accusation and be followed around like a criminal should make everyone stop in their tracks and consider how we treat one another,” the chief added.
This incident comes amid a series of other viral incidences of racial profiling as racial tensions run high in the wake of recent police killings of African-Americans and Black Lives Matter demonstrations.