Retail Chains Confront National Protests

Thom Weidlich 06.04.20


The horrific killing of George Floyd, an African-American man, by a white police officer in Minneapolis has led to nationwide protests, some tinged with violence. This has given rise to hundreds of statements from individuals, organizations, and companies. One group that has had to respond are retail chains whose stores have been damaged. Here are three examples from those with looted locations.

It’s estimated that protests have erupted in over 400 cities in the U.S. and globally. Organizations are confronted with the question of whether to speak out. Typically, it would be advised to do so only if one’s business has some connection to the crisis. In this case, many professional sports teams, with many African-American players, have issued statements. And it appears that companies are leaning on the side of saying something, if only to calm employees.

The retail chains had no choice — the vandalism and looting carried out by a minority of protestors brought them into the crisis. Interestingly, many stores are shying from euphemisms, some even addressing the U.S.’s long history of racism — perhaps the country’s most sensitive subject. Some even put the May 25 (Memorial Day) death of Floyd in the context of other race-related killings and episodes.

The retailers are also refraining from condemning the demonstrators, looters, and property damage, as The New York Times has noted (“Retailers, Battered by Pandemic, Now Confront Protests”).

On May 29, the day the officer who allegedly asphyxiated Floyd was arrested, Walmart released a memo to employees from CEO Doug McMillon. The executive’s main aim seemed to be to put associates at ease and assure them of the Bentonville, Arkansas-based company’s commitment to diversity.

‘Rights, Dignity’

“We must remain vigilant in standing together against racism and discrimination,” McMillon wrote. “Doing so is not only at the heart of the values of our company, it’s at the core of the most basic principles of human rights, dignity, and justice.”

That same day, Brian Cornell, CEO of Target — based in Minneapolis — issued a statement full of pathos. “We are a community in pain,” he wrote. “It’s hard to see now, but the day will come for healing — and our team will join our hearts, hands, and resources in that journey.”


We can fix the damage to our stores. Windows and merchandise can be replaced.

— Nordstrom

Two days later, Target released an update in which it announced it was changing some store hours and temporarily closing six locations. The company was refreshingly straightforward in a lot of what it said. “We appreciate members of the community and our team who have assisted in cleaning in and around that location,” it wrote, referring to its looted store on Lake Street in Minneapolis, near where Floyd was killed. “We are now boarding the store up until we can survey the location and begin recovery efforts.”

Also on May 31, President Pete Nordstrom and CEO Erik Nordstrom posted a memo to employees of their namesake company. In a widely lauded June 1 statement, the company itself wrote, “We can fix the damage to our stores. Windows and merchandise can be replaced. We continue to believe as strongly as ever that tremendous change is needed to address the issues facing Black people in our country today.”

Nordstrom said it was temporarily shutting all its locations.

Photo Credit: Nordstrom

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