You steal, you die.
That's the international policy apparently at Wal-Mart stores, where reports indicate another alleged shoplifter has died at the hands of a gang of overzealous Wal-Mart workers -- this time in China.
According to the Associated Press report this week, Yu Xiachun, a 37-year-old woman, died 500 yards from the Wal-Mart store in Jiangxi province. Based on the local police report, Yu had exited the store and was on her way home on August 30th when she was surrounded by five Wal-Mart workers, who accused her of shoplifting.
The Wal-Mart workers asked Yu to produce a receipt, which she did. But then Yu tried to take the receipt back -- questioning who the four men and one woman were, because no one was wearing a Wal-Mart uniform. The police say that the Wal-Mart workers fought with Yu, and she was knocked to the ground. She was taken to the hospital, where she died three days later. The police have arrested two of the young Wal-Mart workers who fought with Yu. It is not clear yet what they are being charged with, if anything.
Wal-Mart's domestic 'loss prevention' strategy seems to be one of 'shoot first, ask questions later.' This horrible outcome in China is reminiscent of the equally appalling story from August of 2005, when 30-year-old Stacy Driver, a master carpenter and the father of a two-year-old son, died from a heart attack while lying face down in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Houston, Texas. Driver was pinned down on the burning hot pavement by several Wal-Mart workers who accused him of shoplifting a package of diapers, a pair of sunglasses, a BB gun, and a package of BBs. "When we got there," a paramedic said of the scene, "the man was facedown (in cardiac arrest) with handcuffs behind his back. About 30 people were saying, 'Let him up, it's too hot,' Another employee brought a rug for Driver to lie on, but one of those holding Driver said he was fine where he was. One eyewitness reported, "After about five minutes, (Driver) said, 'I'm dying, I can't breathe, call an ambulance.'" After Driver was handcuffed, the eyewitness said one employee had his knee on the man's neck and others were putting pressure on his back. "Finally the guy stopped moving" and the employees got off him. They wouldn't call an ambulance. "I looked at him and said, 'Hey, he's not breathing,' but one guy told me (Driver) was just on drugs. I told them his fingernails were all gray, and finally they called an ambulance."
Three years later, in December of 2008, another Wal-Mart patron died in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Patrick Donovan, 53, died over $393 in Wal-Mart merchandise, lying face down in the giant retailer's parking lot. Donovan's death came at the hands of three Wal-Mart workers, who wrestled the alleged shoplifter to the ground, where the man died. The Wal-Mart workers and one bystander held Donovan down, while one leaned on his back and another held down his arms and head. The police report says Wal-Mart workers told Donovan to stop fighting, and asked witnesses to call 911. By the time Donovan had stopped struggling, he had died.
Wal-Mart has been very quiet in response to this death in China. All the company has told the media is that "an incident occurred" between two of its "security associates" and a "female visitor." In past incidents, Wal-Mart's corporate office has refused to discuss its procedures for detaining and using force against shoplifting suspects. But here is their policy: Wal-Mart has an entire Loss Prevention Associate Guide. In that guide, it says that employees should "address the shoplifter politely and directly." It says that "reasonable force can be employed if the shoplifter refuses to return (to the store)." The policy goes on to clearly state, "If the situation becomes violent, or is deemed potentially dangerous, you should allow the shoplifter to leave." Wal-Mart Guides don't seem to carry much weight at the local store level.
After the Houston incident in 2005, a spokesman from the National Retail Federation said, "Most retailers have a policy of not going into a chase or getting into a combative fight with someone. Most retailers' policies would say that if a person becomes combative, let them go. You can tell police, and let the police handle the investigation and follow up."
It is only a matter of time before another 'visitor' to Wal-Mart is killed for allegedly shoplifting. In a matter of minutes, Wal-Mart will try, convict, and sentence the visitor to death in their parking lot. This corporation, which boasts that it has squeezed all the inefficiencies out of the supply chain, also has managed to squeeze out its customers' rights to protection under the law, and due process. Wal-Mart's loss prevention team needs to set a higher priority on preventing the loss of life at their stores.
You steal from Wal-Mart, you die.
Al Norman is the founder of Sprawl-Busters. He is the author of the book 'The Case Against Wal-Mart.' His website can be found at http://www.sprawl-busters.com. Norman has been helping communities stop big box sprawl for 16 years.