Police in New Jersey are investigating a possible bias crime after shoppers at a Walmart store heard a public announcement instructing all black shoppers to leave the premises.
The incident currently under investigation by the police occurred on Sunday evening at a store in Turnersville, part of the Washington Township in Gloucester County in New Jersey.
According to the Gloucester County Times there were more than a dozen black shoppers in the store when an unidentified male made the following announcement over the public address system:Attention Walmart customers: All black people must leave the store now
Following the announcement, which the Courier-Post suggests in its report did not include the word "must", a crowd reportedly gathered at the store's customer service counter.
Some ten minutes after customers and staff alike were left "looking stunned" by the announcement, the store's manager told shoppers congregated at the customer service counter that security tapes were being reviewed to discover who was responsible for the offensive message.
In addition an apology was made over the public address system.
As the Gloucester County Human Relations Commission makes counseling available for any shoppers distressed by the incident, some of those targeted by the announcement have spoken of how they intend to boycott Walmart. The big-box retailer is reportedly the largest retailer in the world during 2009.
Sheila Ellington, a 49-year-old attorney who deals with bias cases and sits on the executive committee of the Gloucester County Minority Coalition, has praised the professionalism of the police and the store's management.
However, as well as indicating that she would not be shopping at Walmart in the future, she said with reference to the incident and seemingly her children:In 2010, I want to know why such statements are being made because it flies in the face of what we teach them at home, and that's tolerance for people
Furthermore she would like the incident to be considered one of harassment as well as of bias.
Accompanying Sheila Ellington to the Walmart store in Turnersville on Sunday was Patricia Covington, 49.
As both women agreed they were glad that their young children were not with them as they shopped Ms Covington added:I can't believe it in this day and age. Walmart needs to be more responsible
On behalf of Walmart, which has its headquarters in Arkansas and employs over two million people in 15 countries, corporate spokeswoman Ashley Hardie talked of the incident being "unacceptable to us and to our customers" and explained:We are currently reviewing our systems to prevent this from happening in the future