Prosecutor investigating N.J. Walmart racial comment

An announcement telling "all black people" to leave the store spurs investigation

Published March 18, 2010 11:59PM (EDT)

A racial comment made over the public-address system at a Walmart store in southern New Jersey is being investigated as a possible bias crime, a prosecutor's office said Thursday.

A male voice came over the system Sunday evening and calmly announced: "Attention, Walmart customers: All black people, leave the store now."

The announcement, at the Washington Township store, provoked an immediate apology from the store manager and a promise from company officials to try to determine how it happened.

Gloucester County Prosecutor Sean F. Dalton began an investigation Monday and his office said in a statement Thursday that some of the system phones are accessible to the public and not all are in range of security cameras.

Investigators said the announcement could have been made from any of about two dozen phones inside the store. They reviewed video from store cameras, but did not disclose what, if anything, was discovered.

Office spokesman Bernie Weisenfeld said in the statement that its victim-witness unit has contacted the store's management, offering counseling services to anyone affected by the announcement. The county's Human Relations Commission was offering similar help.

Officials say several people have come forward and expressed interest in getting counseling.

Meanwhile, Lorenzo Lopez, a spokesman for Wal-Mart Stores Inc., said the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer was working to reduce the number of phones accessible to the public and with public-address capabilities.

Company officials have said the announcement was "unacceptable."

While it was unclear whether a rogue patron or an employee was responsible for the comment, many customers at the time expressed anger to store management.

By Associated Press

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