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California Target Apologizes After Black Teens Were Detained And Falsely Accused Of Shoplifting

California Target Apologizes After Black Teens Were Detained And Falsely Accused Of Shoplifting
La Shaun Aaron/Facebook

Retail giant Target has apologized after three Black teenagers—ages 16 and 17—were wrongfully detained in a case that was seen as racial profiling and racial bias.

The teens were lumped in with other customers who were accused of stealing iPhones from inside the store location in Westlake Village in California.

Malik Aaron, 17, and his friends went to Target last week to look for some snacks after their weekly high school ministry at Calvary Community Church, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Once there, they saw a separate group of customers who broke into a display case and ran out of the store with stolen iPhones.

Malik and his friends then noticed a store employee following them around the store.

He recalled the conversation he had with the Target team member who accused them of loitering.

He told KCAL 9:

"He said, 'Oh, do you guys need help with anything,' and we said, 'No. We are in the right aisle. And he said, 'Well, I can't have you guys walking around in the store,' and, you know, that kind of just made me, like, really uncomfortable, and that's when I told everyone, 'Let's just forget about the snacks and just leave'."

But when the teens tried to leave, the exit was blocked by shopping carts moved into place by employees who wrongly assumed the teens were involved in criminal activity.

Malik added:

"They wouldn't let us leave at all, but they were letting other people leave."

When the responding deputies arrived, one of the teens began recording the interaction with a cellphone.

One of the deputies slapped Malik's cellphone out of his hand and caused the device to break when he also tried to capture footage.

Aaron's mother, La Shaun, told the Los Angeles Times her son and his friends were "targeted because they were children of color."

She added:

"They were automatically associated with people that had committed a crime because they were also Black."

La Shaun posted the cellphone footage on her Facebook page.

The video showed the deputies holding the teens with their hands behind their backs and pushed against the checkout counter.

La Shaun said of her son:

"They took him outside of the store in handcuffs, which is totally humiliating, infuriating, embarrassing and traumatic."

Malik added one of the deputies was physically aggressive with him outside the store.

"...he threw me in the cop car and told me to shut the eff up and slammed the door on my feet."

Malik continued:

"I was thinking I was going to die that night. I already had that mindset that they were either going to kill me or one of my friends."

The teens were later released and no arrests were made.

Sheriff's Captain Sal "Chuck" Becerra explained in a statement the deputies' supervisors conducted an investigation looking into the Target incident.

The department concluded the deputies involved did not use "physical force" with one of the teens or damage a cellphone.

Becerra added there was no evidence to support "any allegations of wrongdoing, use of force, violation of our department policies, or violation of any laws on behalf of the deputies."

Target issued a statement of apology and said they terminated the team member involved in the incident.

Target additionally said all team leaders will "retake mandatory security and racial bias training."

The statement read:

"We want all Target guests to feel welcome and respected whenever they shop in our stores, we're deeply sorry for what happened and we've terminated the security team member who was involved."
"What happened to these guests is in direct opposition to the inclusive experience we want all our guests to have. Our security team member took action and stopped these guests in violation of Target's security procedures."
"We expect our team members to follow Target's security processes and treat all guests with respect. Additionally, all leaders at the store will retake mandatory security and racial bias training."

In conclusion, the retail company acknowledged the wronged teenage customers and their families.

"Finally, and most importantly, we're reaching out to all of the guests who were involved to offer a personal apology."

Civil rights attorney Toni Jaramilla—who is representing the Aaron family—said Target's apology was not enough.

Jaramilla said it needs to go "deeper than that" and added:

"You've got to take a look at their hiring practices, you've got to take a look at their promotional practices."