WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP, N.J. -- An announcement at a Walmart store in New Jersey ordering black people to leave brought chagrin and apologies Wednesday 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 now plan to boycott the retailer.
Officials with Wal-Mart Stores Inc., based in Bentonville, Ark., said that the announcement was "unacceptable" and that they're trying to determine who made it -- whether an employee or a rogue patron -- and how it happened.
"We are just as appalled by this incident as our customers," the company said in a statement Wednesday. "Whoever did this is just wrong and acted in an inappropriate manner. Clearly, this is completely unacceptable to us and to our customers."
This is not the first time the retailer has faced such problems.
There have been several past 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.
However, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has said the company has worked hard in recent years to show it cares about diversity.
Bill Mitchell, a former Walmart employee who shopping Wednesday at the store, said that he was saddened to hear about the announcement but that "as a black man, I've heard worse things."
As she left the store Wednesday, customer Sharon Osbourne of Williamstown called the announcement "appalling, stupid and sad."