Racism at Jenkinson’s? This person says there’s another side to the story
POINT PLEASANT BEACH —The woman who brought a group of 40 Paterson girls to Jenksinon's Aquarium believes seven members of her group were kicked out of a gift shop over race. The boardwalk's management was quick to say discrimination is unacceptable. The aquarium said it's "devastated" and stressed it values diversity.
UPDATE: Tuesday: After internal investigation, Jenkinson's fires employee. Original story follows below.
But at least one person claiming to have witnessed the incident says there's more to the story — that the girls were being unruly before they were finally asked to leave.
Attiyya Barrett — organizer of the Princess to Queenz program, which bused Paterson girls aged 6 through 14 as well as 10 chaperones to the Shore for a summer camp trip Friday — told New Jersey 101.5 a group of her girls got ahead of the rest during a trip to the aquarium and entered its gift shop. There, she said, her girls were told by worker "Linda" they weren't welcome — something Linda repeats on a video Barrett made as she confronted Linda afterward.
Barrett had said the girls were told they needed a chaperone, but when they returned with a 32-year-old, they were still told they couldn't stay. Linda says on the video she hadn't believed the woman was a chaperone. Barrett told New Jersey 101.5 the girls weren't acting unruly, but "just shopping."
That account differs from one by NJ.com poster "KS," who wrote on that site's story about the incident he'd seen the confrontation.
"I was in the gift shop with my wife and daughter when all this went down. What you don't see on the tape is what took place BEFORE all this happened," KS wrote.
KS said the campers were "totally out of control in the aquarium and were running around and screaming. They almost knocked my 2-year-old daughter over a few times to where I had to carry her the entire time were were in the aquarium."
KS described being in the gift shop with family when the campers arrived.
"They were running around, screaming and causing a ruckus. When the shop owner asked the campers where they chaperone was, the campers said 'she's not here.' At which point, the shop owner said, 'if your chaperone is not here, then you have to leave,'" KS wrote.
When the chaperone arrived, she got "very very loud and defensive and then the shop owner asked them all to leave," KS wrote.
"There was no racial profiling, this was a case of a shop owner expecting people to act properly in their shop so nothing gets broken. I really hope there are security cameras with sound in the shop so the truth will come out. There are two sides to every story, the video only shows one side. Everyone is so quick to drop the 'R' word that it overshadows what really took place and the events leading up to the argument," KS wrote.
New Jersey 101.5 has not yet been able to identify or reach KS for further comment.
Barrett had told New Jersey 101.5 she didn't initially assume the incident was racially motivated — especially since there are delicate items in the gift shop that a manager might not want children to touch. But she said when Linda refused to believe the chaperone was legitimate, and when Linda told her "You guys like to pull your phones out," it changed her perception.
"That's what made it racially motivated in my mind," she said.
Barrett said after the video was recorded, she collected the girls from her camp and they left the gift shop. She said a Jenkinson's manager and security met her right after, and apologized.
In the time since, Jenkinson's has said the gift shop worker has been suspended while it conducts an investigation. The aquarium noted in its own statement it does not run the gift shop, but Barrett said because visitors have to exit through it and it sells aquarium merchandise, she holds management responsible.
"We sincerely apologize to the girls from the camp group for the way they felt upon leaving. We have been in contact with the group leader and will continue to work with her to make amends," Jenkinson's wrote in a statement this weekend. "The employee involved in the incident has been suspended while we conduct an investigation. Any necessary further action will be determined after said investigation."
Story continues after video.
"She doesn't want the children to shop in her store because they have to have be with a chaperone. They go get the chaperone and then she excludes all of our girls because she doesn't want them there. What was the reason why again," Barrett says in the video she took of her confrontation with Linda.
"Because they didn't have a chaperone," Linda responds.
"No! And when they got the chaperone what was your reason?" Barrett says
"I didn't think she was a chaperone," Linda says,
"And when she was explained why what did you say?" Barrett says. As Linda begins to answer, Barrett talks over her: "What did you just say?"
"They're not welcome in here," Linda says.
"They're not welcome," Barrett repeats as the video ends.
Speaking to New Jersey 101.5, Barrett described Linda as the manager of the gift shop, but the statement from Jenkinson's did not address the woman's position.
Barrett said she's been talking to the girls and parents since the confrontation. Some were crying on the bus ride home, she said. Barrett said she hopes to see Linda fired, and perhaps some sensitivity training put in place.
"Honestly, I'm leaving it under the direction of my girls," she said. "I want them to learn from this."
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