An enjoyable Sunday morning turned into a nightmare for a group of Westlake, Calif., teenagers who were shopping for snacks at a local Target on Jan. 17 after attending high-school ministry at Calvary Community Church Westlake. After entering their local Target in Westlake Village at 30740 Russell Ranch Road, the children, ages 15-17, were making decisions regarding the snacks they wanted to purchase, a tradition that they keep every Sunday.
“This is part of their routine. They go to church high school ministry. From there, they go to In-N-Out, and from In-N-Out, they go to target,” La Shaun Aaron, the mother of one of the teenagers, explained. “The Black population here is very small. We are 1 percent here. Most of us know each other or are connected in some way. We are familiar with one another.”
During the time when Aaron’s son and his friends were shopping, as they do every week, a violent shoplifting incident took place in the electronics section of the store. The suspects smashed the case that held cell phones, shoplifted the electronics, and escaped through the back of the store. After a few minutes, a store associate approached the group that included Aaron’s son, asking if they needed help finding anything, to which the children replied that they were simply looking for snacks and did not require any assistance. The group was then told that they would have to leave the store because they were loitering, which confused the teenagers, yet they complied and headed toward the front exit of the store. Upon arriving at the exit, the children were informed that they were not permitted to leave, as police had been called and were on the way due to the shoplifting incident that had taken place and involved thieves who were also Black. The teenagers, including Aaron’s son who has been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder were becoming uncomfortable with the situation, as they were the only shoppers within the store who were being detained, yet they were also a group of Black children.
“They were telling them that they were accomplices to create a diversion,” Aaron said. “They said you guys are the decoy. They were flat out being accused of something they had nothing to do with. They knew nothing about it.”
Once sheriffs from the Malibu/Lost Hills division arrived, the incident escalated through no fault of the children. Aaron has taught her son about the challenges of being exposed to racial profiling, which inspired him and his friends to record the exchange on his phone. An officer began reaching for the child’s arm, which he pulled back as the officer slapped him, causing the phone to fall to the floor and break. Officers then pinned the child up against a cash register, bending him over the conveyor belt, and handcuffed him, eventually doing the same to his friends. During the incident, the teenagers did not resist physically but had verbally questioned officers and Target associates repeatedly regarding their detention. On Jan. 19, Aaron finally garnered the courage to view the video of the racist incident, which she found heartbreaking. After roughly pulling the teenagers out of Target, sheriffs threw the kids into their vehicles and began interrogating them.
“They are totally manhandling him. There are people watching this. He is being handcuffed for no reason whatsoever. There is no reason. He did not physically touch the officer. He did nothing the other kids didn’t do anything,” Aaron said. “As they were questioning these kids, they began to understand these are kids that are not involved although they should have never been so sure and convinced that they were without doing their due diligence anyway.”
The following day, Aaron filed a report with the sheriff’s watch commander to begin the process of uncovering the details of the incident that occurred between her son and officers. She and the mother of another child from the group also visited the Target location where a manager offered a replacement phone for her son. A manager admitted wrongdoing during the situation and apologized but stopped short of admitting racial profiling. Aaron still has not received word from the watch commander from the sheriff’s department.
“It’s the trauma and humiliation that you’ve created based on your explicit biases and that is the bottom line of the situation,” Aaron explained. “I’ve been in contact with several people from there today and yesterday. Still have not heard back from law enforcement when I called yesterday to follow up.”
The upper middle-class, predominantly white, suburban enclave is located near the location in which Mitrice Richardson, a 24-year-old Black woman went missing 12 years ago. Her remains were found 11 months after her disappearance without any leads pointing toward a motive, suspect, or any connection to the crime. The Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station also covers this area.
During the rise of Black Lives Matter protests during May and June 2020, Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station captain Jennifer Seetoo was without warning replaced by Salvador Becerra, who told the Malibu Times that he would not hesitate to enlist “a strike force team and/or the National Guard” to preserve the safety of the community, but did not elaborate regarding whether he would also protect the rights and wellbeing of peaceful protestors. Becerra was promoted by L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, during an “emergency appointment,” despite the Malibu Times reporting that Seetoo was highly regarded within the community that she monitored, which, in addition to Westlake Village, includes Malibu, Calabasas, Agoura Hills, and Hidden Hills. Villanueva’s commitment to healing law-enforcement community tensions with Black citizens has been in question since shortly after his 2018 election. In 2020, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors called for Villanueva’s resignation due to a lack of transparency and oversight.
It is Aaron’s hope that with greater public awareness surrounding this awful racist incident that justice will be served for her son and the other children. There have been calls coming in from the executive director of the Target branch where the incident took place and a company’s guest-services spokesperson in Minneapolis, Minn.—but this is not enough.
“I am pretty sure that if we didn’t show our faces at that store, we wouldn’t have gotten a call. They never would have followed up. It would have been status quo if we had not gone to the store,” Aaron said. “It’s not even a microaggression, it’s overt racism.”
We are putting out a call to action for news agencies to disseminate this information as the Aaron family seeks justice. If any additional details are needed, please contact Kelly Jackson.
Allies for Black Americans
Allies for Black Americans is a movement led by Black people who are supported by non-Black allies to organize, protest, demand change from lawmakers, shift the system, and create a country that is truly equitable and inclusive of all citizens. Founded in May 2020 by Kelly Jackson, AFBA is committed to eradicating systemic racism and promoting racial harmony through healing, caregiving, education, and mental wellness.