Police in New Jersey have made an arrest in the case of a Wal-Mart annoucement ordering black people to leave the store -- it was a 16-year-old shopper.
Police say last Sunday, the boy, whose name is not being released because he is a juvenile, got onto the public address system of a store in Washington Township and said "Attention, Wal-Mart customers: All black people, leave the store now."
The teen was arrested Friday on charges of harassment and bias intimidation. Authorities said he was released to the custody of his parents.
"This was an extremely disturbing event on many levels," Gloucester County Prosecutor Sean Dalton said at a news conference. "Any statements like these that can cause harm or grave concern must be addressed as quickly we possibly can."
Dalton said the case would be handled in juvenile court. He would not say whether the boy has a criminal record, citing the teen's age, and would not disclose the teen's race, saying that did not factor into the investigation.
Authorities would not say whether the announcement was planned or made impulsively. Police said they were also investigating a teenage boy who accompanied the suspect to the store, but they had not charged the other boy.
Although a manager quickly went on the intercom system and apologized for the remark, many customers expressed their anger to store management. Some community members said Saturday that they've heard reports of similar incidents happening at the store in recent months that were not reported to police.
"We are concerned about that, and we're looking into these incidents. We want to work with the community to make sure these types of incidents don't happen," said Loretta Winters, president of the Gloucester County chapter of the NAACP.
Winters said she hopes the boy will get counseling and be educated about sensitivity so he can understand the consequences of his actions. "I'm assuming this person didn't realize how hurtful his comments were," she said.
Officials for Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said the announcement was "unacceptable," and Dalton praised the company for its strong cooperation in the investigation.
"We're pleased this matter is resolved," Walmart spokesman David Tovar said in a statement issued after the news conference. "We have updated our intercom system at this store to prevent this from happening again. We again apologize to all of our customers and associates who had to listen to something so offensive."