Is Wal-Mart A Symbol of Everything Wrong With America?

Is Wal-Mart A Symbol of Everything Wrong With America?

by Justin O'Connell | CULTURE |

Gun violence, corporate greed, meth, domestic abuse...and record profits.

Huge fights, stampedes, road rage incidents, a shooting by police of a Black man holding a BB gun and lawsuits. Problems don’t end there for the world’s largest retailer.

A recent Bloomberg report highlights the troubling realities unfolding in U.S. Wal-Mart’s. A desperate picture is painted, one which speaks volumes to the U.S.’ current state of affairs. Wal-Mart, one might conclude from the details in the article, is a microcosm of the nation’s economic, social and political crises.

Darrell Ross’ colleagues in the Tulsa Police Department call him Officer Wal-Mart. He works as much as ten hours a day in the local Wal-Mart Supercenter security office. Shoplifters are brought in nonstop. The store’s call log is 126 pages: more than 5,000 trips, five years.

Tulsa police responded to four Tulsa Wal-Mart’s 2,000 times last year: five armed robberies in 2016, a murder suspect killed himself with a gun in the parking lot in 2015, and a 2014 shootout killed one and injured two others.

Petty crimes on Wal-Mart properties will surpass the hundreds of thousands in 2016. That eclipses the 200 violent crimes - such as attempted kidnappings, multiple stabbings, shootings, and murders - at the U.S.’s 4,500 Walmart’s this year: a SWAT team killed a hostage taker in Texas. Three Walmart employees in Florida were charged with manslaughter for chasing and pinning to the ground a shoplifter, who died of asphyxia. Police found a meth lab inside a drainage pipe beneath a Wal-Mart in August.

Chief Executive Officer Doug McMillon prioritized reducing crime upon taking over in 2014. Wal-Mart’s problems persist. Ross’s squad sergeant, Robert Rohloff, a three decade veteran dislikes how a multinational can offload policing costs on taxpayers: “It’s ridiculous—we are talking about the biggest retailer in the world. I may have half my squad there for hours.”  Law enforcement nationwide demands answers.

In 2000, former CEO Lee Scott’s cost-cutting campaign removed greeters, installed self-checkout scanners and cut labor costs. Sales per employee in the US increased 23% in the past decade to $236,804. Meanwhile, Wal-Mart stores, due to fewer employees, became easier targets for thieves. Anti-crime campaigns aren’t working at the 24-hour retailer which allows campers overnight in their parking lots.

According to experts, Wal-Mart’s board doesn’t want to cut into its profits. No board members have spoken about the crime epidemic at their stores. Towns declare Wal-Mart’s public nuisances.

Back in Tulsa, a solitary woman is brought to Officer Ross. She has a black eye. Ross moves towards her and she flinches - a telltale sign of domestic abuse. Ross makes himself look smaller by relaxing his shoulders, tucking his hands into his bulletproof vest.

“Is he the one who did this to you?” he asks simply. She understands what he means. She confirms. She cries. She discusses her alcoholism, losing her children and her abusive partner. She was on her way to her children’s father’s house to cook dinner when Wal-Mart employees apprehended her, she says.

A common sight for Ross, he feared the abuser waited for her in the Wal-Mart parking lot. He’d probably write a court summons. Wal-Mart reported August 18 its largest same-store sales gains in four years in the second quarter.

Is Wal-Mart everything wrong with America? Is it a microcosm? Let us know in the comments.


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Justin is a California-based writer who covers music, cannabis, craft beer, Baja California, science and technology. His writing has appeared in VICE and the San Diego Reader.

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