Oregon state Rep. Janelle Bynum, D-Clackamas, said her constituents have been fulfilling her calls to loiter at Clackamas Town Center this week.
The request came after Bynum’s 17-year-old daughter said she was racially profiled at the mall. Christine Bynum and two friends, all young women of color, were sitting in her car outside the mall on Sept. 20, after one of the girls realized she left her identification at home and wouldn’t be allowed into an R-rated movie.
“We were just eating our candy that we bought and just sitting there looking at homecoming dresses, trying to figure out what our next move was,” Christine told OPB. She said a mall security guard circled their vehicle a few times.
“Next thing you know, he was coming up to talk to us,” Christine said.
She estimated they had sat in the car for 10 minutes or less when the security guard explained to them the mall “has a strict policy against loitering, and we just like to make sure that the parking lot is a safe place for everyone.”
Although the officer never directly told the girls to leave, they did.
“Immediately after that, we knew we weren’t welcome and then right after we left, we were thinking, ‘What if we hadn’t looked the way that I did?’” Christine said. “If we would had been white, then they wouldn’t have talked to us.”
The mall is in Janelle Bynum’s legislative district. She responded on Facebook asking people to “loiter-in” at the mall.
“Go see how long it takes to be asked to leave the mall by mall security. Sit in the food court, sit in your car on the phone, sit on the benches. Report your experience here,” Bynum wrote on her Facebook page.
Christine said there were other people sitting in the parking lot who security did not approach.
“She believes she was racially profiled by a mall cop. Let's figure out if there's a difference between loitering or being the wrong color,” Bynum wrote on the “Loiter-In for Chrissy” Facebook event page.
Related: Oregon's Rep. Bynum On Race, Grace And Getting Stopped By The Police While Canvassing
This week people have followed through on the request and posted their photos “loitering-in” on Bynum’s Facebook page. They’ve also sent her private messages detailing their experiences.
“I would say the community has really opened their arms and we have some very passionate, sassy grandmas that have gone and sat in the parking lot. We have some millennials who went and sat in the parking lot,” Bynum said. “I think they felt like they could do something because a lot of times people know that there's a problem, but they want to know what they can do about it.”
Bynum has also received push back from people accusing her of wrongly making the incident about race.
Clackamas Town Center officials said its “highest priority” is the safety of people who go to the mall.
“We respect the privacy of our guests and have reached out to Representative Bynum to discuss the encounter,” mall officials said in a statement. “We are committed to ensuring that our center is inclusive and that it welcomes all members of our community.”
When asked if the mall would elaborate on its policies around monitoring people who visit the mall, manager Dennis Curtis responded: “We do not discuss the specifics of our security program because to do so would compromise its effectiveness.”
The incident wasn't the first time Janelle Bynum has been involved in a case of racial profiling in Oregon that made headlines. Last summer, she was canvassing voters in her district when one of her constituents called the police on her. The encounter ended with Bynum and the officer taking a selfie, but it also attracted national attention. This spring, the Legislature passed a bill Bynum had written that penalizes people for frivolously calling the police. It carries a fine of up to $250.
Bynum said part of the reason for highlighting the incident at Clackamas Town Center was because she thinks it can be difficult for people in Oregon to find redress when they’ve faced discrimination.
“How do we make sure that people can seek some sort of action to fix things? I think a lot of the time, people think that people want money out of a situation and it's not that,” Bynum said. “You just want to maintain your dignity.”