California Target Apologizes After Black Teens Were Wrongfully Accused of Theft, Handcuffed and Detained

Zack Linly
·4 min read
Malik Aaron, 17, talks to reporters about the incident at Westlake Village, Calif., Target in which he and two of his friends were handcuffed and detained by sheriff’s deputies after being wrongfully accused of being involved in a theft at the store.
Malik Aaron, 17, talks to reporters about the incident at Westlake Village, Calif., Target in which he and two of his friends were handcuffed and detained by sheriff’s deputies after being wrongfully accused of being involved in a theft at the store.

Racial profiling often seems like some kind of perverse rite of passage that young Black people have to go through in America (and likely, everywhere else in the world where Black people exist) as a part of growing up.

A California Target has apologized after two Black teenagers were handcuffed and another was detained in the store because they were associated with other Black people who were accused of shoplifting. The mother of one of the teens, who filmed part of the incident, said the apology isn’t enough.

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The Los Angeles Times reports that the Westlake Village, Calif., Target said one of the security staffers involved in the altercation has been fired and other employees at the store have been required to retake security and racial bias training after the incident in which Black teens went into the store for snacks and left with a reminder that being innocent of wrongdoing while Black doesn’t mean they won’t be targeted (no pun intended).

La Shaun Aaron, mother of 17-year-old Malik Aaron, one of the handcuffed teens, accused both the store employees and the deputies who responded to the call of racial profiling and said they took her son “outside of the store in handcuffs, which is totally humiliating, infuriating, embarrassing and traumatic.”

Here’s what happened as reported by the Times:

Aaron, who resides in Thousand Oaks, said the incident began last Sunday. While her son and his friends were looking for snacks, a group of Black men shoplifting iPhones in the electronics section was confronted by store employees, she said.

A Target worker soon approached the teens, all of whom are 16 or 17, and accused them of loitering, she said.

When the teens tried to leave, store employees moved shopping carts in front of the exits, assuming wrongly that they were also involved in the criminal activity, she said.

“They were targeted because they were children of color,” the 43-year-old mom said. “They were automatically associated with people that had committed a crime because they were also Black.”

Aaron said her son attempted to film the sheriff’s deputies, only to have one of them slap his phone out of his hand, breaking it. Deputies also shoved him against a counter and threw him into a patrol car, slamming the door on his feet, she said.

Of course, Sheriff’s Capt. Sal “Chuck” Becerra issued a statement saying, predictably, that after a cop-on-cop investigation, the department determined that none of the cops involved in the teens’ detainment did anything wrong.

Becerra said that “Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station deputies responded and detained three individuals who had been identified by the business’s loss prevention officers,” and that “the deputies confirmed a Grand Theft had in fact occurred, but their subsequent investigation revealed the young men were not involved; they were released without incident.”

Cops, racists and racist cops are the only ones who would think innocent Black teens being wrongfully accused of theft and handcuffed constitutes “without incident.” So it’s no surprise that Becerra also stated that an “investigation conducted by the deputies’ supervisors” determined that no “use of force, violation of our department policies, or violation of any laws on behalf of the deputies” happened during the altercation. He said the allegations were made by someone he described as a “concerned citizen, who was not present during the incident,” with no mention that the “concerned citizen” was the mother of one of the teens. In fact, Malik himself described the use of force to WTVM 9 and even showed reporters the damaged phone.

“I was thinking I was going to die that night,” Malik told WTVM. “I already had the mindset that they were going to kill either me or one of my friends.”

“How do you conduct a fair, unbiased and thorough investigation without even contacting Malik and the other boys and their parents?” Toni Jaramilla, an attorney for the Aaron family asked, the Times reports. “That’s not an investigation.” Jaramilla said she plans to file a civil rights lawsuit against Target on behalf of all of the families whose children were detained.

Target released a statement saying it was “deeply sorry” for the incident and that “we are reaching out to all of the guests who were involved to offer a personal apology.”