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CVS employees call 911 on black woman trying to use a coupon

CVS employees call 911 on black woman trying to use a coupon
CVS says it no longer employs two workers at a store in Chicago (not pictured) who were involved in calling police on a customer trying to use a coupon. (Olivier Douliery / Abaca Press)

Couponing while black?

Add it to the list.

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On Friday, a Chicago woman tried to use a coupon at CVS when a store employee told her the slip was fake and another worker called the police. The incident stands as the latest known example of racial profiling in commercial spaces, captured in a viral cellphone video. After a CVS investigation, the employees are no longer with the company.

Camilla Hudson, 53, didn't hope for much beyond convenience when she made her late-night run into CVS. Coupon in hand, she wanted to use the slip — which had been mailed to her by a product manufacturer — so she could replace a defective item.

Hudson hadn't had any issues talking to one employee, who later identified himself as Morry Matson, while she stood in the self-checkout aisle. But then she was approached by another employee who said he'd never seen the coupon before and insisted it was fraudulent.

Hudson, who is black, told the Washington Post that she didn't take issue with the fact that the store wouldn't accept the coupon.

What will leave a lasting impression was how she was treated.

"He talked to me like I was a rabid dog," Hudson said of the second employee. "He was not professional. He was not courteous. From the very first words, he was contentious, and he was accusatory in his tone."

Hudson took out her phone to start filming, and the second employee turned his back and walked away. He ran to the back of the store and slammed a door between himself and Hudson. That's when Matson, who just minutes before had been helping Hudson check out, told Hudson that she would be better off leaving because he had called the police.

Hudson told him that she would to talk to the police. Matson then called 911 again as Hudson started filming.

In the video, Matson is visibly shaking. He describes Hudson and her clothing to the dispatcher.

"Tell them that I will be waiting for them to arrive," Hudson says. "You can tell them her name is Camilla Hudson. I have ID and will share it."

Matson, who is white, then spells his own name for the dispatcher and describes Hudson as African American. Hudson corrects Matson and says she's "black."

"Black isn't a bad word," she says in the video.

Officers from the Chicago Police Department responded to an "assault in progress call" close to midnight on July 13, according to a police spokesperson. Officers did not generate a police report and "peace was restored," the spokesperson said.

The department had no further information on the officers' interactions with Hudson or the CVS managers, but confirmed that it received two calls from the CVS that night.

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Mike DeAngelis, a spokesperson for CVS, said the company apologized to Hudson and that a regional director in Chicago contacted her "as soon as we were made aware of this incident." DeAngelis said that after an investigation, "the two colleagues who were involved are no longer employed by CVS."

DeAngelis would not elaborate on whether the employees had been fired or had resigned.

"We have firm nondiscrimination policies in place to help ensure that all customers are treated with respect and dignity," DeAngelis said. "Profiling or any other type of discriminatory behavior is strictly prohibited."

DeAngelis said the company's formal diversity training helps cement employees' understanding of CVS policies and commitment to nondiscrimination and diversity. The company investigates complaints from customers or employees alleging discriminatory behavior. Employees who violate those policies "are subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment."

When Hudson first wrote about the incident on her Facebook page, the post garnered thousands of comments and shares. The post was ultimately censored based on language that Hudson said she used and that the platform classified as hate speech.

Hudson said that until Monday morning, she had been locked out of her account entirely, a punishment known as "Facebook jail."

For years, activists have said Facebook's rules about what it censors are too vague and biased for users to understand. Minority groups often say their Facebook posts are disproportionately censored when they point out racism or start conversations about discrimination, a Post investigation found last year. In one instance, that included a black mother who vented on Facebook after a stranger hurled a profanity-laced racist epithet at her children.

Moreover, Facebook will often go beyond censoring posts to locking users out of their accounts, sometimes for 24 hours or more. The punishment often comes with no explanation.

In one Facebook post about the incident, Hudson wrote that after a brief conversation with the police officers called to the CVS, she left the store.

"Needless to say, this is far from over," she wrote. "Life in these United States. Aargh."

Siegel writes for the Washington Post.

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