Virginia group accuses Walmarts of racist sales practice; retail giant fires back

SUFFOLK, VA (WAVY) – A union-led campaign took to the streets of Suffolk on Wednesday, accusing three local Walmart stores of offensive sales practices.

According to officials with “Making Change at Walmart,” two Suffolk stores and one in Norfolk are racially discriminating against customers by locking up certain African-American hair products.

“We cannot find any other Walmart that’s doing this,” said Randy Parraz, campaign director. “This is forcing African-American shoppers to have a different experience.”

Parraz spoke to WAVY from outside of Suffolk City Hall, where he was joined by several other members of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.

“We have a voice that will be heard loud and clear,” said Tiffany Beroid.

But according to Walmart Spokesperson Phillip Keene, the security measures have nothing to do with race, and any claim otherwise is “false” and “offensive.”

Keene told WAVY that products are secured based on shoplifting data, which is individualized for particular stores.

“There are products that are more often targeted by shoplifters than others, such as razors, baby formula, and other items. Like every retailer, we take steps to make sure the items that might be high on a shoplifter’s list are protected against theft,” Keene said in a statement.

Keene said that the secured hair care items are “heavily targeted” by shoplifters.

On Wednesday, WAVY walked through the aisles of the Walmart on North Main Street in Suffolk. It’s that location, along with the College Drive store in Suffolk, and the Tidewater Drive store in Norfolk, which are facing the accusations.

Our crew discovered a wide range of items with locks, including certain medicines, jewelry, electronics, perfume, razors, condoms and even a pet fence. Several aisles had visible security cameras, but the aisle with African-American hair products did not.

According to Making Change at Walmart, the locked products serve alone as proof of discrimination. Parraz stated that the security creates an uncomfortable situation for African-American shoppers.

“You gotta sit there, wait, they’ve gotta call a manager to get a key and open up a box for a $1.97 [product]… it’s a humiliating process for paying customers.”

But according to Keene, the security measures are “normal” and meant to “protect the items against theft so they are available for the customers who need them.”

He adds: “These measures are not a reflection of our valued customers and any attempt to insinuate otherwise by this particular group is shameful.”

Making Change at Walmart said they want to see the shoplifting data as evidence that these particular items are targeted by thieves.

“Show the footage. Who are all these criminals out there, that’s justifying sending this message?” Parraz asked.

Keene said that data is not publicly released.

“Going out into the Suffolk community, I talked with a number of folks who felt hurt, who felt targeted and also felt insulted,” Beroid said.

But when WAVY spoke to shoppers outside of the North Main Street location, they weren’t upset.

“Because look, people steal, right?” one man asked. “[The security measure] doesn’t bother me. If I need something, I ask.”

“Making Change at Walmart” spoke before Suffolk City Council on Wednesday. The group has launched a petition and plans to deliver it to the North Main Street Walmart at 10 a.m. Thursday.

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