A 16-year-old boy is accused of making a racial remark over a New Jersey Wal-Mart’s public-address system.
The teen allegedly grabbed one of the phones in the Washington Township, N.J. store and said, “Attention, Wal-Mart customers: All Black people leave the store now.”
If convicted, the boy could face a year in a juvenile detention facility.
According to witnesses, a store manager swiftly apologized over the public-address system. The store and the police began separate investigations soon after.
While the store’s surveillance cameras did not directly capture the incident, it did show three people, including the suspect, standing near the phone before the announcement and retreating from the store just after it was heard.
An anonymous tip led police to search online social media outlets, where they discovered postings of youth bragging about the incident according to Rafael Muniz, Washington Township police chief.
“This was an extremely disturbing event on many levels,” Sean Dalton, Gloucester County, N.J. district attorney, said during a press conference. “Any statements like these that can cause harm or grave concern must be addressed as quickly we possibly can.”
According to a Philadelphia Inquirer report, the intercom broadcast wasn’t the only recent instance of racial insensitivity at the store.
On March 17, a man called the store and asked employees to tell Blacks to leave. Several months ago, an unknown person used the store’s public address system to relay the same message.
Muniz said he is seeking a warrant to go through the store’s telephone records to verify and trace the call.
The fact that those incidents weren’t reported doesn’t stay well with local NAACP representatives.
“If something had been reported before, we may not be standing here right now,” Gloucester County NAACP President Loretta Winters told the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Wal-Mart has updated its phone system so that a customer can’t access the public-address system again.