Demand Target & Walmart Stop Fanning the Flames of Crime Wave Panic

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    Demand Target & Walmart Stop Fanning the Flames of Crime Wave Panic

    In September, Target shuttered nine stores across the United States, many of which were located in Black and Latino neighborhoods. Target executives publicly blamed these closures on retail theft, repeatedly calling for more policing and increased store security and surveillance systems. However, crime statistics show that the locations impacted by store closures had significantly fewer shoplifting incidents than those that remain open. While Target closed its only East Harlem location, shoplifting rates were higher in SoHo, where Target opened a second store this past fall. 

    Target is not alone in these disparities.  In July 2023, Walmart announced the closure of 21 stores in 14 states and D.C., citing “underperformance and theft.” However, one month prior, Walmart reported a decline in profit margins, as customers spent more on lower-margin items, such as groceries, than higher-margin items, such as electronics. Truth be told, Americans need an extra $11,400 today just to afford basic necessities, and many Walmart customers cannot afford to purchase groceries, let alone nonessentials. 

    Retail crime has nothing to do with recent store closures, and these big-box retailers know it. The National Retailers Federation debunked claims that retail theft is on the rise To date, several retailers have admitted to “exaggerating” the impact of shoplifting on their bottom line. Still, Target and Walmart have continued to spread sensationalized crime narratives, increase surveillance measures in their stores and even endorse tough-on-crime legislation (e.g., repeal of California Proposition 47). 

    Narratives have power. Inaccurate portrayals of shoplifting can create an unsafe environment for Black customers and have proven to incite vigilante violence. In 2018, Target security guards at a store in Southfield, Michigan, followed, confronted and strip-searched a Black woman on suspicion of shoplifting. In 2020, Walmart Asset Protection Associate Joseph Williams followed, confronted and called the police on Michael Mangum, a Black man who he alleged “ke[pt] checking [him] out.” Williams even told the 911 operator that Mr. Mangum had not been acting violent nor seemed under the influence; he had simply been shopping while Black. The continued sensationalized crime narratives could lead to increased cases of racial profiling or even a repeat of the near-fatal 2023 shooting of a pregnant Black woman in Nashville by a Walgreens team member who had accused her of shoplifting.

    Even if retail crime were on the rise, the bills that Walmart and Target have funded are not the solution. The 1994 Crime Bill, for example, incentivized states to build prisons and imposed the three-strikes rule — locking people up for life if they are convicted of certain felony offenses and already have two previous convictions. Three decades later, mass incarceration has ballooned and 78.5 percent of Americans serving life sentences in federal prison are people of color. 

    Target and Walmart must exercise far greater responsibility when reporting on in-store crime. And they must stop endorsing legislation that threatens the livelihoods of our communities. Join us in holding these retailers accountable.


    Below is the letter we will send to Target and Walmart executives:

    Here is the Petition:

    Dear Executives: 

    It has come to our attention that Target and Walmart have colluded with media publications to spread prejudicial narratives about retail-related theft that associate Black communities with crime. Overstated claims of shoplifting create an environment where white vigilante violence thrives, endangering the lives of all Black people, including Target and Walmart customers and staff.

    As these sensationalized crime narratives spread and even serve as the basis of tough-on-crime policies, we are asking that Target and Walmart work to erode the racist associations that are used to enable harm against Black communities by:

    • Publicly acknowledging its distortion and manipulation of crime stats that overstate retail theft in Black communities and, in turn, is reported by the mainstream media. 

    • Reducing the number of loss prevention officers at stores and rolling back other surveillance measures (e.g., facial recognition) in Black neighborhoods. 

    • Withdrawing support for the Combating Organized Retail Crime Act of 2023 and similar legislative measures that enable the surveillance of Black communities.