Last week, 65-year-old Betty Smith, a regular customer of Lindemann Grocery in Industry, TX, a town in Austin County, was out shopping for a honey bun and ice cream for her son when she spotted $50 on the floor. What should have been a serendipitous find quickly turned sinister when “a trio of employees stopped her from leaving the store after she found the money.”
After locking the door, surveillance footage captured video of the employees confronting and physically assaulting the grandmother. Smith said, “They just jumped all over me and choked me…She was spitting all in my face…I was too scared to spit in her face.”
According to Smith, “the store manager told her she couldn’t leave with the money, because it may have belonged to someone else. The fight over the money escalated, and at one point Smith was put in a choke hold, one employee snatched the money from her hand, and she claims one of the women used racial slurs.”
When family members of Smith arrived at the store to help, officers on the scene handcuffed them, and reportedly even “Smith’s daughter was arrested.”
Regrettably, this is yet another mundane, everyday activity wherein Black people face undue burdens—as The Guardian reports, “Name a store, any store, from Fifth Avenue to Main Street, and I’ll bet that I can find a black person who has experienced discrimination there…Retail racism is nearly endemic to shopping… Experiences of ‘shopping while black’ include everything from slights, like being ignored in favor of a white patron, to serious attacks on dignity and liberty.”
This is especially concerning, given that civil rights laws in this country usually do not cover retail stores, so legally, “[s]alespeople can decide whom to lavish assistance upon and whom to surveil and ignore,” and thus this type of discrimination will continue.
Since the incident with Smith occurred, though the employees weren’t charged with any crime, the store owner fired all three employees. The owner also apologized to Smith and “offered to pay the bail for Smith’s daughter and told her she could have the $50 she found, but Smith declined.”
Smith wants the employees who brutally attacked her to be arrested for their crimes, and is also pondering the possibility of taking civil action.
Community activists have been vocal in their support of Smith and on Monday afternoon a local pastor and activists Dr. Candice Matthews and Quanell X issued a call to action, demanding justice for Smith. As Quanell X stated, “This grandmother, this beautiful elderly Black woman who is suffering and fighting cancer, did nothing wrong in that store.”
The district attorney’s office is still reviewing evidence, but District Attorney Travis Koehn did release the following statement:
“The Austin County District Attorney’s Office has received offense reports, witness statements, and extensive video evidence from the Austin County Sheriff’s Office’s investigation concerning the January 16, 2023 incident at Lindemann Store. The District Attorney’s Office is carefully reviewing this matter, as we do with all investigations forwarded by law enforcement. This remains an ongoing investigation. The office will continue to request and review any additional evidence that may be relevant to charging decisions in this incident. When this matter is completed, the Austin County District Attorney’s Office will issue a press release to notify the public regarding the outcome.”