An “appalled” mayor has reached out to the victim of an alleged racist rant and offered to have her around to his family home and offer an apology.
Aya Al-Umari, whose brother was shot dead in the March 15 mosque attacks, was shopping with her mother Janna Ezat at the Rangiora branch of Farmers when she was confronted by an older couple in an incident captured on video.
Al-Umari, who was asked if she was “born and bred” in New Zealand, has since reported the episode to police.
A police spokeswoman today confirmed they have received a report and are now making enquiries.
“Police take all reports of hate speech or behaviour that causes concern to our communities seriously,” the spokeswoman said.
“Speech, violence or threatening behaviour driven by hate is not acceptable and should not be condoned by anyone, whether it has happened online or on the street.”
Now, the mayor of the Waimakariri region – the whitest district in the country, with 95.22 per cent of the population identifying as European, according to the 2013 Census – has contacted Al-Umari to express his dismay over what he called a “racist incident”.
“I have sent a message to Aya Al-Umari and her family to let them know how appalled I was that they were subjected to totally unacceptable behaviour,” said Waimakariri District Council Mayor Dan Gordon on his Facebook page.
“I can comfortably say Waimakariri is a welcoming community and our residents would be shocked to hear that they have been treated in such a way.”
Gordon added: “I have extended an invitation to welcome Aya Al-Umari back to our community and have the family around to my home to show them how welcome they are in Waimakariri and offer an apology.”
Al-Umari says she was touched by the mayor’s offer and has felt overwhelmed by the support she has received.
“It really does restore faith in humanity,” she said.
Al-Umari described the incident on social media two days ago, writing the trouble started when she and her mother were at the store’s makeup counter, speaking in Arabic.
“We were standing in the lipstick counter. As we are in a pandemic, Mum does the sensible thing and tries the lipstick *on her sanitised hand* then from her hands applies it to lips,” Al-Umari said.
They then noticed a couple next to them. “They were eyeing us up,” Al-Umari said.
She heard the woman say to her husband “she shouldn’t be doing that”.
Al-Umari asked the woman if she wanted to say something directly to them.
“She pretended not to hear me and then says to her husband, ‘It’s okay, it won’t be long before they leave our country’.”
She then had to decide whether to shrug it off or call out the woman on her comments, Al-Umari said.
“I asked her what her problem was and she said if we were in Europe we would be fined which was strange because how else were we supposed to test it?
“She then asked me if I was born and bred in New Zealand and I decided to start recording.”
Her brother, Hussein Al-Umari, 35, lost his life at the Al Noor Mosque on March 15 last year.
“If it had happened before my brother died, I probably would have kept quiet but hate escalates, it needs to be stopped because we have seen what happens if it is not.”
Al-Umari took to social media after the incident telling the story of what happened along with posting the video she took.
All the love and support they have received has not been superseded by the hate, she told the Herald.
“It has been a bit overwhelming, we have received a lot of messages of support. It’s been really great to see.
“It restores your faith in humanity.”
A passer-by in the store told the woman she should be ashamed of herself.
“It was awesome to see other people calling it out too.”
Al-Umari said she was happy with how the situation was handled by Farmers staff.
“They escorted the man out of the store and the woman gapped it straight away after that.
“It’s like she was in denial. Once she was called out, she ran away.”
She feels pity for the woman “because of her ignorance”, Al-Umari said.
“I was more upset about how it would make my mum feel because I didn’t want her to be upset.
“Over the past year, my personal resilience has gone through the roof and this was just one more thing we had to endure.”
Al-Umari said she would encourage anyone who is a bystander in a similar situation to “call it out”.
A staff member at the Farmers store in Rangiora told the Herald they had been instructed not to comment to media but said the staff member seen in the video had done “an excellent job”.
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