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A Black woman was driving in her own neighborhood. A white man followed her and accused her of suspicious behavior

A white man allegedly followed a Black woman around Groveland and accused her of suspicious behavior while she was driving in her own neighborhood Monday.
A white man allegedly followed a Black woman around Groveland and accused her of suspicious behavior while she was driving in her own neighborhood Monday.Handout

Julia Santos was on her way back from picking up a bag of dog food for her pomeranian-beagle mix, Athena, on Monday — a short drive through Groveland to grab something she’d seen offered for free online.

But as she headed home, dog food in the back seat, she suddenly noticed that she was being followed.

Within moments, Santos, who is Black, found herself cornered on a side street, being interrogated by a white man who wanted to know what she was doing in a neighborhood barely a mile from her own home, in a town where the 21-year-old Santos has lived all her life.

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Captured on video and posted to social media, the incident is the latest in a long history of similar confrontations in which white people accost people of color for routine acts of daily life, including bird watching, barbecuing, or doing nothing at all.

Police have opened a criminal investigation into the incident, which Groveland Police Chief Jeffrey Gillen said “deeply disturbed” him. Police said they have identified and spoken with the man in the video, but did not release his name.

Groveland police investigating after resident followed
A white man allegedly followed a Black woman around Groveland and accused her of suspicious behavior while she was driving in her own neighborhood Monday. (Video: Julia Santos)

In the video, posted to Facebook by Santos Monday, a man driving a BMW convertible is seen pulling up beside her car, on a street near her home in the town about 35 miles north of Boston.

“So what are you driving up Juniper Terrace for?” the man asks. Santos explains that she saw a post online offering free dog food, which she’d gone to pick up. She then tells the man she saw him following her, and pulled over on a side street.

“I don’t feel safe right now,” Santos says in the video.

“You don’t feel safe?” the man says. “I don’t feel safe with you driving around in my neighborhood.”

“Why?” Santos asks.

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“Too many people,” the man says, stammering slightly.

“Or is it because I’m Black?” Santos asks. “Is that why?”

“No,” the man says. “I don’t know what color you are. What color are you?”

After about two minutes, the confrontation ends when a neighbor, watching the exchange from her car nearby, chastises the man for harassing Santos.

“I don’t like the fact that this poor girl is being harassed,” the neighbor says, off camera.

“I don’t like the fact that she’s in my neighborhood,” the man says.

But Santos was only about a mile from her own home when the man began following her.

In a message to the Globe, Santos said she was still “a little shaken up” a day after the incident, especially since the clip had been viewed more than 35,000 times, leaving her unsure about how the man might react to the exposure.

On Facebook, Santos named a Groveland man who she says is the person accosting her in the video; the Globe could not independently confirm his identity Tuesday evening.

“But,” she added, “I am so happy and relieved about the amount of support I’ve received inside and outside my community.”

Santos grew up in Groveland. It’s her home. And while she said she’s felt her “fair share of racism” in her young life, Santos has never experienced an incident like the one that unfolded minutes from her own driveway.

“Nothing as scary as this,” she said.

In recounting what happened, Santos said once she was sure she was being followed by the person in the BMW, she started to “get very scared” and decided to turn down a side street near her home. When she realized she had cornered herself on a dead-end road, her heart dropped.

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“I honestly wasn’t sure what was going to happen,” she said, after the man’s car pulled up behind hers. “I am so relieved my neighbor was there and I have no idea what could’ve happened to me if she wasn’t.”

Santos told the Globe that she feels like what happened “represents where we are right now as a country.”

“I just think especially in this racial climate, some people are walking on egg shells,” she said. “Meanwhile, some people ... have just gone full racist mode.”

Santos joked that she wasn’t sure how anyone could have thought she looked threatening or suspicious that day, with little Athena sitting in her lap most of the time.

Santos said while her family is obviously upset about the confrontation in their own community, they have “complete trust that the [police department] will handle this well.”

Gillen said the experience caused Santos to feel unsafe in her own community and that the police would “aggressively investigate” what happened.

“I am deeply disturbed by this situation,” Gillen said. “The fact that a resident of our town could face accusation and be followed around like a criminal should make everyone stop in their tracks and consider how we treat one another.”

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He added: “On a personal note, I have lived in this area for my entire life and have been a police officer here for more than 30 years. I have met many of the families in Groveland, including the victim’s family, and watched families grow here. ... Our job as police officers is to not only keep people safe but also feel safe in Groveland.”

On Twitter, Santos was more succinct. Referencing the derisive nickname given to white people caught instigating similar conflicts, she wrote: “I just got Karen’d?”

Globe Correspondent Caroline Enos contributed to this report.


Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear. Maria Lovato can be reached at maria.lovato@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @maria_lovato99.