Walmart Inc. said Wednesday that it will stop placing "multicultural hair care and beauty products" in locked cases after numerous complaints about the practice at a handful of its stores.
After news reports of a complaint involving a Denver Walmart store circulated Tuesday, Walmart said it will no longer keep personal care items designed for black people under lock and key.
"We're sensitive to the issue and understand the concerns raised by our customers and members of the community and have made the decision to discontinue placing multicultural hair care and beauty products -- a practice in place in about a dozen of our 4,700 stores nationwide -- in locked cases," the Bentonville-based retailer said in an emailed statement.
"As a retailer serving millions of customers every day from diverse backgrounds, Walmart does not tolerate discrimination of any kind," the company said. "Like other retailers, the cases were put in place to deter shoplifters from some products such as electronics, automotive, cosmetics and other personal care products."
For some black shoppers, though, the use of extra security on items catering specifically to them implies a view that they are not to be trusted.
Lauren Epps of Denver told CBS News on Tuesday that she was frustrated to find products for textured hair locked behind glass at her local Walmart while brands made for finer hair were on open shelves.
"That's so ridiculous," Epps said. "People don't realize what we have to go through on a daily basis."
Epps had to wait for a store employee to open the case so she could get the scarf she wanted to buy. Then, she said, the employee started to put the scarf into a portable locked case for Epps to take to the cash register.
At that point, Epps walked out of the store.
"I'm not going to be shamed into thinking I'm a criminal for just wanting to get a scarf," she said. "This is very blatant because the heading above that aisle says 'Multicultural Hair Care.' They are saying that people who are a different culture need their stuff to be locked up."
Many complaints from around the country have been reported by news media over the past few years. In 2016, a group called Making Change at Walmart, run by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, circulated a petition asking managers at three Virginia stores to stop the practice.
One customer sued Walmart over the issue in January 2018. According to documents filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, the suit was dismissed with prejudice in November 2019 at the request of both parties. Dismissal with prejudice means the plaintiff can't reopen the lawsuit or file another based on the same grounds.
Twitter users responded to Wednesday's news by reporting their experiences with the locked-up products in such disparate places as Louisiana; Sacramento, Calif.; Wichita, Kan.; and Washington, D.C.
Walmart did not say why it chose Wednesday to change its policy. However, that was the day George Floyd, the black man who died while handcuffed and in the custody of police officers in Minneapolis, was laid to rest in Houston.
Floyd's death on May 25 has sparked daily protests around the U.S. and internationally as people call for an end to police brutality and systemic racism.