Last week I posted about a Costco employee at the entrance door seeking to inspect my personal bag for firearms, and tonight local station Fox 4 covered the incident as reported by WFTX: "Former attorney Phillip Crawford Jr. has been shopping at the Costco in Ft. Myers for years, but his most recent trip to the wholesale retailer made him feel more like a criminal."
Just to be clear: I did not have a firearm in my bag and was not otherwise carrying or in possession of a firearm. I am an ardent supporter of the Second Amendment -- indeed, I'm a big fan of all the U.S. Constitution -- and oppose Costco's prohibition against lawful firearms in its warehouses. However, my personal beef with the company was its attempt to inspect my personal bag like a profiled suspect.
Two executives from Costco Wholesale have reached out to me in separate calls since Fox 4 ran its story. According to them the sign at the door in which Costco reserves the right to inspect bags is only for deterrent purposes, and the actual policy is never to inspect customer bags which they claim its doorman Ruben violated on his own initiative in requesting to see mine. However, several issues remain outstanding in my view.
As a threshold matter, Costco has not provided me with any corporate documents confirming its verbal representations about not searching bags as store policy. If such documents exist and are supplied by Costco I will publish them. The facts remain that a big sign is at the entrance door reserving the right to inspect bags, Costco rules prohibit members and their guests from bringing lawfully-carried firearms into their warehouses, and its doorman Ruben said he "need[ed] to see" my bag in order to look for firearms.
Although Costco insists that Ruben was acting on his own the question still begged is why did he do so? If corporate policy prohibits the inspection or search of customer bags is this communicated to employees in their training? I question whether Costco adequately is training its staff because when I complained to store supervisors about Ruben's request they did not tell me his actions were against corporate policy; rather, they seemingly affirmed the invasive practice by offering an alternative explanation that bag inspections were for rooting out non-service animals being smuggled into the warehouse. Costco executives tell me that these two supervisors also were acting on their own, and they misstated corporate policy. How the heck could three people -- Ruben and his two supervisors -- all get it so wrong? Query whether they even previously have been advised of correct procedures or perhaps been fed the wrong information by yet another Costco employee. It seems an awful lot of people are off the rails over there, and corporate policy -- at least as it's perhaps being relayed and implemented in the field -- may not be so clear.
Moreover, on at least one prior occasion Ruben apparently did inspect a customer bag. When I asked Ruben why he wanted to see inside my bag he said it was because he previously "found two loaded guns," and then later a Costco executive told me that according to Ruben my bag looked like this other customer's bag. So Ruben decided on his own to request a search of my bag -- a ubiquitous briefcase-style black Italian shoulder bag -- in direct violation of corporate policy simply because it looked like one in which he previously found firearms? It seems suspicious to me that Ruben would have felt comfortable exercising such initiative unless he felt he had the comfortable backing of higher ups such as the two supervisors to whom I directly complained that same day which provided him with cover albeit for a different reason. I asked one the Costco executives about the circumstances under which Ruben supposedly "found two loaded guns" on a prior occasion since the corporate policy supposedly is not to inspect bags, and I'm not sure I understood the explanation but apparently this customer voluntarily opened his bag unprompted by Ruben to disclose the firearms when otherwise seeking to return items from an earlier purchase. (I'm not sure if I got that explanation quite right as it was a bit confusing to me as I heard it.)
I'm still befuddled as to how in all of Costco's history I alone have been singled out in purported violation of corporate policy to have my bag inspected for firearms. When I told one Costco Vice President that it just must have been "my lucky day" when targeted for this harassing treatment at its entrance door she admonished that she did not like my tone. And so I told her "I don't like being treated like an idiot" in being asked to uncritically embrace its senseless explanation over the unfortunate event. As Judge Judy often quips: "if it doesn't make sense it's usually not true."
Indeed, at the time Ruben said he "need[ed] to see" my bag, I thought there was a hostile attitude. If memory serves me correctly I believe he took a step or two towards me and reached for or pointed to my bag which physically caused me to retreat a few steps back, and perhaps Costco has confirming surveillance video on this confronting moment. Moreover, I believe there may have been a racial animus against me -- Ruben is Hispanic and I am white -- for a reason which I explained to his supervisors at that time and then later to the Costco executives who called me.
Curiously, after Fox 4 uploaded its story on my complaint to its YouTube channel, within hours someone posted the following comment: "Bye bye, gr*ngo!" Given that I had not disclosed to the Fox reporter that there may have been a racial backstory it seemed to me that the posted comment perhaps was made by someone with access to the non-public details about the Costco incident rather than a casual viewer of the reported story. Who posted the comment? Was it even directed to me? In retaliation for my complaint and the resulting report? Was the "bye bye" a veiled death threat? There are numerous cases in which "bye bye" has been understood as a threatening phrase. Moreover, that "bye bye" was coupled with a racial slur suggests there may be menacing intent. Imagine if the comment "bye bye, n-word!" were directed under a reported story of a black person making a public complaint.
On Friday I told the Costco Vice President about my concerns over the posted comment, and wondering if I needed to contact law enforcement for my physical safety. She was quite dismissive of my concerns, insisted that the youtube comment "bye bye, gr*ngo!" was unrelated to the Costco incident -- "neither here nor there" -- and posited many other possible scenarios that may explain the seemingly offensive comment. Perhaps she's right, and the comment was not directed at me with threatening intent but is just online noise that has nothing to do with the story under which it was posted. Indeed, I concede that I'm a tad sensitive in perceiving threats because I once allegedly was marked for a mob-tied murder contract which prompted a federal prosecutor to refer it to the FBI for an investigation. However, neither the Costo Vice President nor I really know the circumstances surrounding the "bye bye, gr*ngo!" comment, and we only can speculate whether it's harmless or hateful. Only if I contact law enforcement which has the appropriate expertise can an accurate assessment be made including who is behind the posted comment and its intent, and accordingly, without making any accusations against anyone I've reported my concerns.
I do not want anything from Costco. Indeed, I advised one Costco executive who called me last Thursday that I have no intention of bringing legal action against the company. Moreover, although I oppose Costco's prohibition on members from lawfully carrying firearms into their warehouses, Costco certainly has the right to adopt that policy just as Second Amendment supporters have the right to take their business elsewhere. Finally, even though Costco insists that in violation of store policy I was the only customer ever asked for a bag check at the entrance door and assured it never will happen again, I have been sufficiently shaken by the event from ever returning. Indeed, that it supposedly was just a one-off event makes it all the more bewildering as to why I was the one singled out, and I can't help but ask myself is there more to the story about which even Costo may not know.
All I want is to feel safe.