State Rep. Erica Thomas and Eric Sparkes have an impromptu debate outside the Publix where the two met a day earlier. WSB image
Photo: WSB-TV
Photo: WSB-TV

Torpy at Large: Canned racial baloney served up outside Publix

Welcome to the return of Stupid Human Tricks.

Most people thought the TV gag died with David Letterman’s retirement. But a Georgia version was revived last week at a Cobb County Publix when a nosy (and rude) fellow came across a state legislator who decided to create a news splash.

By now, the details of the encounter between Democratic state Rep. Erica Thomas and Eric Sparkes are well known in this rolling shinola cavalcade.

It has all the elements that make for a great news tsunami — race, Trump, nativism and shopping — all fueled by social media, the old-timey media and group-think. And a splash of mob mentality.

On Friday, Rep. Thomas was checking out her groceries in the 10-items-or-less express line but had more than 10 items. Sparkes was put out witnessing this, even though he didn’t have to wait. He saw her, simply walked to an empty checkout line and was set to go upon his way.

Except he didn’t. Sparkes is apparently one of those fussy rules sticklers who must point out when others aren’t abiding by agreed-upon social norms, such as signaling a lane change, or stopping at red lights.

No charges will be filed in Georgia lawmaker’s Publix dispute

In TV interviews, Sparkes says he approached Thomas, said “Ma’am, I don’t mean to be rude,” and then pointed to the Express Line sign she was disobeying. Thomas — who is visibly pregnant, and whose young daughter was with her at the time — was not having it, and she and Sparkes had words.

Thomas went on social media, and in an emotional Facebook Live post, she recounted her version of the event, saying, “People are getting out of control with this white privilege stuff,” before getting to the political meat of the matter: “Today I was verbally assaulted in the grocery store by a white man who told me I was a lazy SOB and to go back to where I came from.”

The statement, of course, refers to our president’s ugly and caustic tweets, in which he says four Congresswomen, three of whom were born right here in the USA, should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”

In case anyone missed the point that Thomas was trying to align herself with the Dems’ new Fab Four, she mentioned four more times in her Facebook video that the man told her to “go back to where you came from” or “go back to your country.”

The thought of a raging Trump devotee telling a pregnant black woman to “go back” to where she came from had shades of the bad old days of the 1950s. It spread like racial wildfire.

“Black US lawmaker says white man told her to ‘go back where you came from,’” said the headline in a British newspaper, The Guardian.

The Publix “Go Back” incident made its way up to some Democratic presidential hopefuls, who used the incident to blame Trump for inciting hatred. Twitter
Photo: Twitter

On Saturday, the bespectacled Sparkes arrived at a press conference that Thomas was holding at the Publix. In a bizarre bit of street theater (or, more correctly, parking lot theater), Sparkes and Thomas went at it. He claimed the mantle of Jerk by admitting to calling Thomas an expletive that begins with “b.” But he contested the label of Racist.

Sparkes noted that he’s of Cuban descent and a Democrat who probably voted for Thomas.

His Facebook site carried anti-Trump tirades, including one responding to The Donald’s “go back” tweet, saying, “Trump needs to go back to Germany and his Nazi roots.”

Eric Sparkes, who was accused of telling a black Georgia legislator to “go back where you came from,” was pretty stout in his feelings a week earlier what he thought of such sentiments. Facebook screengrab
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

That afternoon, Thomas leaned back from her original comments, telling a flock of microphones: “He said, ‘Go back,’ you know, those kind of words. 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 kind of references from what I can remember.”

Still, she wanted Sparkes arrested, saying, “I do believe that was a hate crime. We have to make an example out of this man.”

The conservative media pounced on Thomas’ apparent dithering, comparing her to Jussie Smollett, the actor who tried to pull a fast one with a noose and some fake attackers with MAGA hats. There were calls for Thomas to resign amid claims that she’d hoisted a racial hoax for political gain.

The hashtag #HateHoax started trending on Twitter, rivaling the #IStandWithErica that had gotten a nice running start. When you have dueling hashtags, you know you have a proper social media scrum, because for every outrage yin there’s gotta be a yang.

On Monday, Thomas was back at it, holding a press conference at the state Capitol to say she hadn’t backed down. Her lawyer Gerald Griggs, who likes to get in the midst of a nice scrap every now and then, said, “Not at any point … did she ever equivocate in what happened.”

This, of course, smoked Sparkes out of his bunker — again — to go on TV to dispute Thomas.

He said he walked into this melee to clear his name. Or, as one TV Einstein put it, to put “his truth” out there.

Sparkes noted — and this makes sense — that he brought himself into the fray. His image and name weren’t out there. There was no viral video of him circulating.

The controversy erupted late Friday night when state Rep. Erica Thomas took to Facebook, saying Eric Sparkes told her to go back to where she came from while in an express checkout lane at the grocery store.

Why would Sparkes have exposed himself in this dangerous drama if he had truly said “Go back to your country,” as accused? It would be suicide.

“I could have stayed anonymous; I volunteered to make myself known,” he told Channel 46. “And now she wants me arrested. For what? For saying a bad word?”

Cobb County police quickly extricated themselves from this hot mess, saying they looked into it and there would be no charges. The police report says that Thomas, according to the store video, gave as good as she got in the argument, advancing on Sparkes.

Then, the report states, a Publix manager heard THOMAS (not Sparkes) continually say, “Go back where you came from!” And, the report states, she followed Sparkes as he tried to leave.

Attorney Griggs says there’s a case of simple assault here. Sparkes put Thomas in fear of injury, Griggs says, and they aim to go to the magistrate’s office to take out charges.

Good luck with that.

Meanwhile, I have two questions. Why do Democrats make it so hard on themselves? Do they not want to win in 2020?

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