Elk Grove salon owner says speaking out on racism led to accusations she made it up

Pleasant Grove senior Rachael Francois, Elk Grove salon owner Sharie Thompson and Black Lives Matter member Sonia Lewis at an MLK day march organized to draw attention to race issues in the community south of Sacramento.
Pleasant Grove senior Rachael Francois, Elk Grove salon owner Sharie Thompson and Black Lives Matter member Sonia Lewis at an MLK day march organized to draw attention to race issues in the community south of Sacramento. Anita Chabria

An Elk Grove salon owner who went public after a derogatory note was found at her shop said she and others who have spoken out about racism in the city have faced a backlash.

“It’s pretty much because we are telling our stories, we are being targeted,” said Sharie Thompson, owner of DreamGirls Fine Hair Imports in Old Town Elk Grove. “Instead of just facing the situation ... they want to make us out to be liars, problem starters, and it’s just not right.”

Monday, Thompson organized a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day march, which drew about 100 people, to bring attention to what she sees as retaliation, and the need for more action around the issue.

“There is definitely a problem,” said Martha Schure, one of those who participated in the short march from the city library to Thompson’s salon. Schure said she had some “real prejudiced people who are neighbors” in nearby Wilton. She said she was marching to support “justice, equality and freedom.”

Thompson gained attention last September when an employee found a note left outside her salon that used a racial slur in reference to African Americans, and said a “coon hunt” is “Coming soon.”

Thompson reported the salon incident to Elk Grove police, who investigated it as a hate crime.

Thompson said in an interview with The Sacramento Bee on Monday that since going public with the note, at least one neighboring business owner called the incident “fake news” and accused Thompson of having the note written by a family member in a bid to “cause this racial issue in Elk Grove,” she said. She said that rumor has taken hold with others as well.

“It’s hurtful,” Thompson said earlier in the week while speaking at a City Council meeting. “You’re a victim once and then you are a victim again.”

Racial incidents have become a big topic in Sacramento’s largest suburb in recent months, prompting many to push for action from city and school leaders.

Other incidents in Elk Grove have included a racist viral video in December in which a Pleasant Grove High School freshman made remarks about her dislike of black people, including calling African Americans “trash” and saying they “need to die.”

That video was viewed more than 4 million times and drew national attention, and prompted a senior at the school, Rachael Francois, to go public with a series of racial incidents there that included a noose being thrown into a classroom and what she described as common use of the N-word.

Elk Grove Superintendent of Schools Christopher Hoffman, who marched in the MLK Day event, said he is “not surprised by the idea of racism, that it exists. But when it raises its head directly in your backyard, it’s always disheartening.”

The district was scheduled to hold a meeting Tuesday night to hear the concerns of students and parents. Hoffman said he also hoped community members would step forward to take part in crafting solutions. The school district meeting was scheduled for 6 p.m. at Sheldon High School Performing Arts Center, at 8279 Kingsbridge Drive in Sacramento.

Thompson was joined on the march by Francois, who said that since she shared her story with media the school and the district have responded to her concerns and the majority of students and teachers have been supportive.

“There is some good and bad but the good has definitely outweighed the bad,” she said during the march. “Universally the support has been so great that it makes me kind of forget some of the bad because people are really reaching out to show how much they care and support, not just black (people) but all races and schools and different communities. But yeah, I’ve gotten some pushback, but it’s not so much to where I want to stop.”

At last week’s City Council meeting, the city presented a report from the American Leadership Forum on how it can improve race relations. That report included suggestions for expanding the role of an existing multicultural committee, more trainings for leadership and staff and conducting “racial healing circles” for community members to “focus on racial healing through storytelling and sharing.”

The city has also conducted community trainings and forums on implicit bias and other issues, but City Council members during last Wednesday’s meeting agreed that more needed to be done.

“We need to somehow get to those people that are committing these crimes,” said Councilwoman Stephanie Nguyen. “This isn’t something we are going to be able to resolve overnight.” Nguyen said her own 7-year-old daughter had experienced incidents in which she was made fun of for speaking Vietnamese and for her ethnic appearance.

Community activist Amar Shergill said he and other concerned community members on Monday sent letters to city leaders, police and police union members asking for more reforms and changes, including an independent police commission to oversee the department and greater tracking of hate incidents.

Police at the meeting also detailed their efforts to combat hate crimes, including a plan to track hate incidents. They said situations such as the distribution of racially charged fliers doesn’t rise to the level of a crime.

Elk Grove police Chief Bryan Noblett said that the FBI had reviewed the city police’s investigation of both the incident at Thompson’s salon and another incident in which “KKK” was painted on the side of a local apartment building. In both cases, he said, the FBI agreed with Elk Grove police who had exhausted all leads without result.

Elk Grove police spokesman Jason Jimenez said those cases would remain open in the hopes someone would come forward with information.

Noblett also said the police were investigating reports of a large truck flying the confederate flag that is known around town for gunning its engine near people, causing some to feel threatened. Jimenez confirmed the department knew about the truck, but said it had not identified the owner. He asked anyone who saw the vehicle being used to intimidate people to take a photo or call police.

“Flying the flag is not illegal so at this point we don’t have any reports of the truck and criminal conduct,” he said.

Elk Grove is one of the more diverse communities in America, according to various studies using U.S. Census data. Non-Hispanic whites make up 38.1 percent of Elk Grove's population, with Asians accounting for 26.3 percent, Latinos 18 percent and blacks 11.2 percent, according to the 2010 U.S. census.

Sacramento Bee reporter Ellen Garrison contributed to this report.

Anita Chabria: 916-321-1049, @chabriaa

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