I’m looking for six male, black teenagers who were at Water Tower Place on March 3 around 7:30 p.m.
No, they didn’t do anything wrong.
It’s that they’re owed an apology.
Dr. Carla Hightower noticed this group of young, black men at Water Tower Place for all the right reasons.
“They stood out because they looked so good,” Hightower says. “There were a large number of them, and they were so stylish, calm and mature.”
But by the time the Chicago physician made her way down the escalator, a very “apologetic-looking” female security guard was escorting the teens out of the building.
“I said to her, ‘What did the boys do wrong?’ ”
“I don’t even know if they did anything wrong,” Hightower says the guard told her.
At that point, Hightower could have just walked away and forgotten about it. After all, she didn’t even know the young men.
But something told her this was a case of racial profiling, plain and simple.
So she sought out a manager. And she was stunned when he told her the teens were thrown out of the mall because they were “loitering” and not “engaged in the shopping experience.”
“I had never heard of such a rule,” says Hightower. “These boys were surrounded by persons not making purchases, but here he was telling them they had to ‘leave now’ and ‘don’t come back.’ ”
Hightower says she insisted on a further explanation and then was told the young men were “chasing girls.”
“He had spent all this time telling me about loitering, and then he tried to make up an excuse,” she says.
Hightower left, then emailed General Growth Properties, the S&P 500 real estate company that owns the popular mall.
“Clearly the Water Tower Place management unfairly discriminates against black teenage boys based on their race,” she wrote.
Kevin Berry, who is executive vice president of human resources and communications for General Growth Properties, agreed to arrange a meeting with Hightower and the heads of security and asset management.
“I was very grateful for that immediate response and that he said he was going to take this seriously,” Hightower says.
Their conversation is the subject of Episode #9 of the “Zebra Sisters” podcast.
Berry says he told Hightower he hoped “race had nothing to do” with what happened.
“I wasn’t there, I just hope it wasn’t,” he says on the podcast. “But the fact that they were expelled from the property and told to get out and never come back was not only unprofessional but is completely wrong.
“Not only that, but the way we did it and then the way we interacted with Dr. Hightower was not right,” Berry acknowledged.
It’s not unusual for black consumers to complain about being followed by security guards when shopping at high-end stores.
But unless you’re the target of the discrimination, most of us are silent.
“For me to have that moment where I was right there … to be able to see it and able to hear the conversation., it was a powerful moment,” she says. “I could see that this was wrong.”
Because of Hightower, Water Tower Place’s management has agreed to review its policies on what constitutes loitering. Also, its security teams are going through retraining, and Hightower was asked to share her experience with the security at Water Tower, according to Berry.
He also offered an apology to the six young black men who were kicked out of the mall.
“The loss here is that there is not only Carla, but there were six kids that for the rest of their lives are going to have a negative feeling of Water Tower Place,” Berry says.
“I would say to each of them that we are … very sorry about what happened to you. It was wrong.”
It would be great if these young men could not only hear this apology in person but also meet the caring woman who made it possible.
Listen to Dr. Carla Hightower and Kevin Berry on Ep. 9 of the “Zebra Sisters” podcast. I co-host the podcast with Leslie Baldacci, an educator and former Sun-Times reporter. You can subscribe (for free) on iTunes, Google Play or the Sun-Times’ website. Join the conversation at email@example.com or give us a shout-out on the Zebra Hotline @ (312) 321-3000, ext. ZBRA (9272).