A Black Cambridge couple are wondering why they were accused of stealing apples by two security guards and a manager at Connors Farm in Danvers and why a responding Danvers police officer said they “were playing the race card” during the incident that left one of their children in tears.
Manikka Bowman and her husband, Jeff Myers, described the Labor Day incident on social media and in a telephone interview Thursday.
“We definitely were put into a situation that I believe most of the families aren’t experiencing, . . . and the way we were treated was not right,” said Myers, a commercial real estate director. “We don’t want to be called criminals and be accused of stealing in front of our kids. . . . We wanted to be treated with the same respect as the other people who were there.”
The couple said they spent $100 on food and apple picking at Connors Farm on Monday. Bowman, the vice chair of the Cambridge School Committee, also donated to the Connors Farm charity. But as they were heading to the farm store where they planned to buy doughnuts and cider, they were confronted by two security guards and, soon after, by a person who identified himself as the manager.
The couple had earlier realized their child had picked six apples that did not fit into the farm-supplied bag, an overflow they placed in the bottom of their stroller and expected to pay for at the farm store. “With families being primary customers, surely, we couldn’t be the first to have excitedly over-picked by a few apples — six in our case,” the couple wrote in a blog post about the incident.
However, “this is where things took a turn for the worse,” they continued.
The two security guards spotted the excess apples, escorted them to the store, and then “proceeded to search my purse for more ‘concealed’ fruit,” Bowman wrote. “Of course, there wasn’t any! I asked the person why were we being treated this way? And did they treat other guests this way?”
After a third employee identified himself as the manager, the couple — embarrassed and confused — asked for the name of the owner in writing. “He refused. When we pushed further for the owner’s information, he called the police,” the post said.
According to the couple, the Danvers officer who responded “was tempered. However, despite our visible frustration and attempts to explain the situation, he never took our position seriously. Rather, the officer’s actions and words assumed that the manager’s narrative was accurate. The officer then accused us of ‘playing the race card,’ ” the couple wrote.
The farm manager asserted their top priority was to “prevent stealing” and not customer service.
“By jumping straight to an assumption of theft, Connors Farm created a scene, harassing us and causing our 7-year-old to burst into tears, anguish that lasted well into the evening,” the couple wrote.
Bowman and Myers said they e-mailed a copy of their blog post to Connors Farm and also sent them a certified letter describing what they endured Labor Day. Until the incident, it had been a perfectly wonderful family outing for them and their two children, a 7-year-old and 18-month-old.
“I think it’s nuanced and complicated. I think bias definitely played into an assumption around two African American people,” Bowman said. “I think there’s an unconscious bias because of how our society functions that may lead people to a place because of what we look like that may not go as far as someone else. . . . It has to do with race. There’s no getting around that.”
Robert “Bob” Connors, the fifth generation in his family to operate the Danvers farm, said in a telephone interview with the Globe on Thursday that he e-mailed the Cambridge couple and “extended a personal apology for what happened.” Connors said he is investigating what his employees did but said he did not know the particulars of the event.
”I don’t know the particulars of the case, and we’re giving the party the benefit of the doubt here,” he said. “I regret the incident. And we’re still investigating it. We do not tolerate racism...We’re about family fun and treating everybody equal...I am not prejudiced...We don’t want to ruin our name over an incident.”
He said his office manager will oversee staff training on the issues of “diversity, equity and inclusion” during their interactions with customers.
Connors said apple thefts by customers drains $1,000 a day from his revenues and that everyone who comes onto the property is notified their backpacks and other bags are subject to search by staffers. “We reserve the right to look into backpacks and strollers because it’s been a real issue,” he said. “We put a lot of time and effort [into growing apples]. We’re farmers and we want to get paid for our crop.”
This Saturday, 50 customers were searched because farm security believed they “over-picked,” he said.
Connors also said he has a Danvers police officer on paid detail for both weekend days through the end of the apple-picking season. The officer working the paid detail this Labor Day was part of the interaction between the Cambridge couple and farm staff from the beginning, Connors said.
On Thursday afternoon, the Town of Danvers posted a statement about the controversy to its Facebook page, noting that town leaders have scheduled a meeting with the couple to discuss the incident and diversity and inclusion training for town staff.
“Yesterday, the Town of Danvers received a letter describing an incident and alleged racial profiling at a Danvers business, which included a racially insensitive comment made by the Danvers Police Officer who was called to respond,” the post said. “The Town extends its apologies for the unsettling experience the family had at a local business and for the comment made by a Danvers employee.”
The statement continued, “Let us be very clear, discriminatory behavior has no place in Danvers, or in any community.” It was signed by Danvers Town Manager Steve Bartha, Police Chief James Lovell, Select Board chair Gardner S. Trask III, and Dutrochet Djoko, chairman of the Danvers Human Rights and Inclusion Committee.