Wal-Mart is searching for the person who ordered Black shoppers at a New Jersey store to leave.
Black customers were shocked and angered when a man got on the loudspeaker Sunday evening and said, "Attention, Wal-Mart customers: All the Black people leave the store now."
Shopper Victoria Arter told Philly.com that most customers weren’t immediately sure what was going on. While some were stunned by the announcement, others began calling the store manager for answers on what had just occurred.
A store manager promptly got on the public announcement system, apologizing to customers and letting them know that the cops were being called.
"It could have led to violence," Victoria said of the demand. "It could have triggered someone who was having a bad day. I don’t want to be an innocent bystander to something because of someone’s not-so-funny joke."
Patricia Covington and her friend Sheila Ellington were standing in line to check out when the speaker ousted Black customers. They don’t think it was a prank because, they say, the voice sounded serious.
Wal-Mart corporation has since released a statement that is "appalled" by the incident, which they call "clearly unacceptable"
Now, CNN.com reports, authorities are investigating the incident as a suspected bias intimidation crime, and they’re checking security tapes to identify a suspect. A Wal-Mart spokesman said the company doesn’t think the announcer was a store employee.
There are 25 phones at the Turnersville, New Jersey, Wal-Mart Supercenter where this happened, and some of them are customer-accessible. Unfortunately, not all of the phones can be see by surveillance cameras. Until a culprit is identified, however, Wal-Mart has lost a big part of its clientele.
"I depended on Wal-Mart for all my needs, because the store has pretty much everything you could want," Patricia told the Associated Press. "But until this issue is addressed in a way I’m comfortable with, I can’t walk through those doors again."
– Sonya Eskridge