On June 2, 2010, Kansas City, Missouri Police Chief James Corwin made an unusual entry on his public blog.
"You may have gotten an e-mail or seen a flier about supposed "gang initiations" in Kansas City," Corwin wrote. "Variations on this urban legend include criminals hiding underneath cars to attack women or preying on women at Wal-Mart stores."
Chief Corwin's Blog entry was picked up in a story nine days later by the Kansas City Star. "Don't sweat the zombie drug or those babies in bushes," the lead to the story began, "and gangsters aren't really killing women at Wal-Mart stores." According to The Star, "Police in Kansas City and in several other cities recently have issued statements debunking various legends that gangsters are targeting women at Wal-Marts." The newspaper suggested that such crimes at Wal-Mart were "the stuff of area urban crime legends."
A few weeks before the Corwin Blog story, WSB TV in Atlanta reported that a body had been discovered in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart in Douglasville, Georgia. The body had been there for weeks, parked in a far corner of the parking lot. The cops reported that the body was reclined in the seat, so passersby "wouldn't have been able to see him just by looking." One of the police officers told reporters the biggest mystery to him is why someone didn't report the vehicle, which had been in one spot for so long. An employee of the store eventually spotted the body, but others had been near the car, including a woman who parked nearby as she was trying to give away some puppies.
On June 11th, Ellisa Castro's family was leaving the Wal-Mart parking lot in Weslaco, Texas after shopping for school supplies when they spotted their truck being stolen. Castro's husband approached the suspects and her 14-year-old son followed after him. The men in the truck opened fire, killing her son.
In Germantown, Wisconsin: Police Chief Peter Hoell recently told local media that his village was a safe place to live. Crime was down 14% last year. There was only one murder in Germantown last year. 14-year-old Cody Reetz was found dead in a van at the Wal-Mart on Appleton Ave. Reetz was killed by his step father, and left at Wal-Mart.
About a month ago, flags were flying half-mast at a Wal-Mart in West Memphis, Arkansas. Two police officers were wounded in the parking lot of the Wal-Mart by suspected drug traffickers armed with AK-47s. The two suspects were killed in the parking lot gun battle. Days after the event, CBS TV described the West Memphis community as "still in shock" over the violent confrontation.
Several months ago I was called by a reporter for a major business publication, asking me if I thought the incidence of crime at Wal-Mart was a story angle. I said crime at Wal-Mart was pandemic, and becoming a major cultural flashpoint. You can detect the growing connection between Wal-Mart and crime in the most detailed cracks and crannies of our culture:
· Shay Fontana, is a mother in St. Augustine, Florida. Her 20 year-old daughter Laura is heading off to Haiti. So Mrs. Fontana took her daughter to a self-defense class sponsored by the St. Augustine Police Department. "You never know when you'll be put in a dangerous situation," Fontana told the St. Augustine Record. "You can be as far away as Haiti or as close to home as a school parking lot or Wal-Mart bathroom."
· Ted Motley, chief investigator for the Covington County, Alabama Sheriff's office told the Andalusia Star-News: "If your child says, 'Hey, I'm going to the movies with friends.' You believe them, but what you don't know is that a predator could be waiting there for them. Same situation can happen at Wal-Mart or on the Square at night. We have to be vigilant parents."
In fact, there are hundreds of cases every month of violent assaults, armed robbery, murder, and sexual assaults inside Wal-Mart and outside in the parking lot. Several months ago the Escambia County, Florida Sheriff's office was looking for an assailant who approached a woman in the Wal-Mart parking lot at knife-point, and forced her into his car, where he sexaully assaulted her. Last month in Charlotte, North Carolina two women were "forcibly fondled" in a Wal-Mart parking lot. After the incident, Wal-Mart released a statement saying, "This is a serious matter and we've been working with police since the time it was brought to our attention."
Those who would defend Wal-Mart point out that it has 200 million visits from shoppers each week. But if you, or a loved one, are a victim of a violent crime at a Wal-Mart, you don't care about how many million people didn't get molested or shot that day. Wal-Mart needs to admit that crime is more than a "serious matter," and then spend the money necessary to protect shoppers inside and outside its stores. This is an investment the company should be prepared to make.
In 2004, Wake Up Wal-Mart, a union-sponsored group, published a report called "Is Wal-Mart Safe?" which analyzed police incident reports in 2004 at 551 Wal-Mart store locations. The study found that:
· In 2004, police received 148,331 calls for service for the 551 Wal-Mart stores analyzed, averaging 269 reported police incidents per store.
· For just the 551 stores sampled, there were 2,909 reported police calls for "violent or serious crimes," including 4 homicides, 9 rapes or attempts, 23 kidnappings or attempts, 154 sex crimes, 550 robberies or attempts and 1,024 auto thefts.
· Based on the number of reported police incidents for the sample, it is estimated police responded to nearly 1 million police incidents at Wal-Mart in 2004 costing taxpayers $77 million annually.
The study also found that Wal-Mart had a significantly higher number of reported police incidents than nearby Target stores. For the sample, the average rate of reported police incidents at Wal-Mart stores was 400% higher than the average rate of incidents at nearby Target stores.
Serious crime at Wal-Mart is more reality than legend. People commit suicide in Wal-Mart parking lots, dump dead bodies, shoot their spouses, and assault children. Huge parking lots near interstate highways are not just convenient for shoppers. They are convenient for murders, rapists and drug dealers as well.
Wal-Mart has become the vast stage where people act out their anger, their vengeance, and their desperation. A place where not only the products are cheap---but the lives are cheap as well. Where heinous acts can go undetected for days, where the scale of the landscape is so huge, that little acts of cruelty and criminality may pass unnoticed.
In short, Wal-Mart, with its roof-mounted surveillance cameras, has become the crowd culture's theater of public alienation and disaffection---where you can be filmed shopping 'till you literally drop.
Al Norman has been called a "one man anti-Wal-Mart cottage industry" by the Wall Street Journal. His website is http://www.sprawl-busters.com. His most recent book is The Case Against Wal-Mart.
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