On Saturday, August 27, a twenty-one-year-old white man drove from his parents’ home in Clay County, Florida, to a Family Dollar in Jacksonville, Florida. According to Jacksonville sheriff T. K. Waters, the man had worked at a Dollar Tree, a dollar-store chain that shares an owner with Family Dollar, from October 2021 to July 2022.
Security footage from the Family Dollar shows the man walking into the store, then leaving with a small bag. But after he reached his car, said Waters, a security guard pulled into the parking lot, and the shooter drove away.
The man then stopped into the parking lot of Edward Waters University, a historically black college. When security began to approach his vehicle, he sped off.
From there, he drove to a Dollar General in the predominantly black neighborhood of New Town, where, per the Associated Press, he killed “Angela Michelle Carr, 52, an Uber driver who was shot in her car; store employee A.J. Laguerre, 19, who was shot as he tried to flee; and customer Jerrald Gallion, 29, who was shot as he entered the store. The gunman then killed himself.”
All three victims were black, and according to Waters, authorities “found more than twenty pages of racist writings” on the gunman’s laptop and swastika markings on his gun.
That a white-supremacist shooter determined to kill black people found Dollar General the target best suited to his aims is no surprise: the company’s employees have been warning about their vulnerability to violence for years.
“We are heartbroken to hear about the loss of our fellow Dollar General worker AJ Laguerre Jr. who was killed in an act of racist violence on Saturday along with two customers,” said those employees who have been organizing with Step Up Louisiana to push the company to address their safety concerns, in a statement following the shooting. “This weekend’s shooting at a Jacksonville Dollar General was senseless, but its location was predictable. The shooter went to Dollar General because it was the least secure, easiest place to murder Black people.”
They’re right: it is no secret that Dollar General lacks security or adequate staffing; the gunman, allegedly a former dollar-store employee himself, would have known that. It’s why those workers have spent years demanding an end to understaffing, more reliable emergency-response systems, and an increase in security personnel. Their demands also include safe staffing, paid time off after exposure to workplace hazards such as the frequent robberies at the dollar-store chain, and worker input on all new safety practices.
But rather than heeding their warnings, Dollar General — which employs some 175,000 people nationwide and targets particularly low-income, often predominantly black areas, for its stores —has responded by doing nothing, save for punishing those who have spoken up. Now, yet another of its workers, a tragically young one, is dead.
“I’m afraid we’ll become more of a target for robberies because everyone knows we don’t have any security and people are getting desperate,” wrote Dollar General employee Kenya Slaughter in a 2020 op-ed for the New York Times. In May, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced that Dollar General has received more than $21 million in proposed fines over unsafe workplace since 2017; the company is currently on the agency’s Severe Violators list, which is for employers with “willful, repeated” safety violations that haven’t taken effective measures toward improvement.
When I spoke to Slaughter earlier this summer, she expanded upon her safety concerns, arguing that Dollar General’s unwillingness to fully staff stores and grant workers the number of hours they desire directly endangers employees.
“What I need them to realize is that it doesn’t even take sixty seconds for someone to have a heart attack or for someone to get a gun pulled on them,” Slaughter told me. She continued:
You shouldn’t have to go to work and worry if you’re going to return home the same way that you arrived at work. The executives certainly don’t have to do that. We’re not even talking about the irate or unwell customers, but about knives and guns being pulled on people while they’re at their place of work. No one should have to deal with that. I’m not a police officer. I’m not a paramedic. I’m not SWAT. I don’t work for the Secret Service. I shouldn’t have to feel like I need a bulletproof vest to go to work.
“Black Americans are under threat from rising white supremacist violence,” said the Dollar General workers organizing with Step Up Louisiana, in their statement following the shooting. “Corporate America can’t continue treating the most vulnerable workers and customers as unworthy of protection. Dollar General must take immediate action to make their stores safe before it costs the life of another employee or customer.”