Protesters gather in Westlake Village after 3 teens were wrongly suspected of theft at Target

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Signs in hand, a small group of demonstrators gathered at a Target store in Westlake Village Saturday to have their voices peacefully heard in the ongoing fight against racial injustices, especially when it comes to Black men being wrongfully accused of crimes that they did not commit.

The rally Saturday comes after three Thousand Oaks teenagers say they were wrongly detained at the Westlake Village Target store, 30740 Russell Ranch Road, during a grand theft investigation mid-January.

The teenagers, who are Black, said they were the victims of racial profiling and discrimination by Target staff and Los Angeles County deputies. 

The teens were shopping for snacks after attending church with friends on a Sunday, when they say a theft occurred involving Black men. The boys said it had nothing to do with them.

The teenagers did not talk to the media during Saturday’s rally, but they previously shared their stories with KTLA.

According to the boys, they were unaware of a shoplifting incident that took place when they were in the store, during which the theft suspects snatched several smartphones and ran out from an emergency exit.

A few minutes later, a Target store employee asked them to leave and the teens say they were confused but complied and headed for the door. When they got there, it was blocked with shopping carts.

“They say we can’t leave, and I’m confused. Like, why can’t we leave?” said 16-year-old Aaron Frederickson, adding that he and his friends were told they couldn’t leave because they were being detained.   

The teenagers’ attorney, Toni Jaramilla, told KTLA on Saturday that her understanding is that Target staff told L.A. County Sheriff’s deputies that her clients were involved in the theft that day. 

“And there was no evidence whatsoever of that,” Jaramilla said. She added that this sort of problem is widespread among the retail chain – not just an isolated issue at this location.

The situation then escalated when one of the teenagers attempted to record the encounter on his phone but was prevented after an officer intervened.

Part of the tense encounter was still captured on cell phone video, which has since been widely circulated.

Sheriff’s deputies were called, and video shows the teens in handcuffs.

“You know it’s like you see it on the news and you don’t really expect it to happen and the next thing you know it happens to you,” 17-year-old Malik Aaron told KTLA.

During the rally Saturday, Aaron’s mother, Lashaun Aaron, said the families are “saying enough is enough.”

“We’re tired of having to feel like we have to carry ourselves any differently than our white brothers and sisters when we walk into stores,” she said.

Gregory Kim, 16, previously told KTLA that “the worst part was the cops getting more aggressive and more aggravated with us” during the mid-January incident.

Frederickson spoke about what he believed was unnecessary rough treatment he and his friends experiences.

“They threw my friend into the cop car and slammed the door on his foot,” Frederickson said. “Which again, is it really that necessary to use that much violence on somebody that later on they’re going to figure out is innocent?”

Meanwhile, Jaramilla told KTLA that she is waiting to talk with Target’s top corporate officials and the L.A. County Sheriff’s Lost Hills Station before she takes further legal action.

Target has since apologized for the way it handled this incident.

In a statement, the retail chain said, in part, “We want all Target guests to feel welcome and respected whenever they shop in our stores. We’re deeply sorry for what happened and we’ve terminated the security team member who was involved.” 

The company also said it is now requiring that other employees retake mandatory security and racial bias training.

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