WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP, N.J. - An announcement at a Walmart store ordering black people to leave brought chagrin and apologies yesterday from leaders of the company, which has built a fragile trust among minority communities.
A male voice came over the public-address system Sunday evening at a store in Washington Township in southern New Jersey and calmly announced: "Attention, Walmart customers: All black people leave the store now."
Shoppers in the store at the time said a manager quickly got on the public address system and apologized for the remark. And while it wasn't clear whether a rogue patron or an employee was responsible for the comment, many customers expressed their anger to store management.
"I want to know why such statements are being made, because it flies in the face of what we teach our children about tolerance for all," said Sheila Ellington of Monroe. She and her friend, Patricia Covington, were in the store at the time and have said they plan to boycott the retailer.
Officials with Wal-Mart Stores Inc., based in Bentonville, Ark., said the announcement was "unacceptable" and that they're trying to determine who made it and how it happened.
"We are just as appalled by this incident as our customers," the company said in a statement. "Whoever did this is just wrong and acted in an inappropriate manner. Clearly, this is completely unacceptable to us and to our customers."
It is not the first time the retailer has faced such problems.
There have been several instances of black customers claiming they were treated unfairly at Walmart stores, and the company faced lawsuits alleging that women were passed over in favor of men for pay raises and promotions.
The NAACP has said the company has worked hard in recent years to show it cares about diversity.