A Black teen who did little more than observe an alleged crime at a California Target store was pushed against a counter and thrown into a police car, with a sheriff’s deputy closing the door on his feet, the child’s mother told The Los Angeles Times. Malik Aaron, 17, was with a few other teenagers making a routine trip for snacks last Sunday in Westlake Village when they witnessed a group of Black men steal iPhones from the display case in the electronics department, Malik’s mother La Shaun Aaron said. It’s unclear why—well, not really—a store employee decided to instead focus on Malik and his friends. The employee accused the teens of loitering then allowed coworkers to use shopping carts to block the children from leaving.
“They were targeted because they were children of color,” La Shaun Aaron said. “They were automatically associated with people that had committed a crime because they were also Black.”
La Shaun told The Los Angeles Times when sheriff’s deputies arrived they handcuffed her child and the other two in a detainment that was “totally humiliating, infuriating, embarrassing and traumatic.” The children were later released but not before someone captured video of the sheriff’s deputies’ response. La Shaun posted that video online, and it has since gone viral. The video doesn’t depict the initial encounter between store employees and the teenagers.
Malik told KCAL-TV he and his friends left church to go to the Target store and after witnessing the theft, an employee started following them. “He said, ‘oh, do you guys need help with anything?’ And we said, ‘no, we’re in the right aisle.’ And he said, ‘well, I can’t have you guys walking around in the store.’” Malik said the worker’s direction made him uncomfortable, so he decided to leave. “They wouldn’t let us leave at all,” the teen said. “They were letting other people leave.”
Malik told KCAL he feared for his life. “I was thinking I was going to die that night,” he said. “I already had that mindset that they were either going to kill me or one of my friends.”
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Capt. Sal “Chuck” Becerra, of the Lost Hills Station, admitted that the teens were not involved in the alleged crime but also said an internal investigation found that deputies didn’t use excessive force or damage the teens’ phones, according to the Ventura County Star. “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,” Becerra said in the post.
Target said in a statement obtained by the Ventura County Star that the business has fired a security worker in the incident, apologized to the teens, and implemented racial bias training for the store’s workers. “What happened to these guests is in direct opposition to the inclusive experience we want all our guests to have,” a Target official said in the statement.
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