Revolution Online, December 12, 2008

Racist Injustice at the Dollar Tree

It was Taneka Talley’s wish to see Larry, her 8 year old son go to college when he was grown. That was why she took extra shifts at the Dollar Tree Store in Fairfield California, earning $220 a week. But on the morning of March 29, 2006, shortly after starting work, her dream was ended. She was brutally killed, stabbed to death by a white man she had never met or seen before - a racist who later testified that he woke up thinking ‘I’m going to kill a black person.’ Taneka was the first Black person he saw.

Dollar Store
Revolution Photo
Taneya Talley (second from right, sister of Taneka) and Javon Ezell (far right, brother-in-law of Taneka) with some of Taneka's nieces and nephew. They are in front of the Dollar Tree store where Taneka was murdered by a racist white man in Fairfield, CA.

As if this cold-blooded, premeditated racist murder wasn’t criminal enough, Taneka’s family is now the victim of another crime of premeditated viciousness. DollarTree Stores and their insurance carrier, Specialty Risk Services (SRS), is denying the death benefits claim for Larry, now 11-years-old. Carol, Taneka’s mom, who now takes care of Larry, told Revolution: “This young man has been through a lot. A custody battle, he was in a car accident, he’s still grieving his mother. He loved her much and she loved him.”

Workers compensation laws in California state that death benefits can be denied if there is a “personal connection” between the attacker and the victim, releasing the employer from responsibility. SRS argues that because the killer targeted Taneka as a Black person, it established a “personal connection” between them, and releases Dollar Tree from liability and SRS from having to pay. In their letter to the family’s lawyer they stated that Talley’s stabbing was “purely racially motivated. As such, it is our belief that our denial in this matter is proper.”

Taneka worked hard for her son at Dollar Tree, Carol told us, “…to move up and to get him the things that he wanted and he shouldn’t be denied that for the simple fact of the color of her skin. Racism should have stopped a long time ago. There shouldn’t be no racism. There shouldn’t be no discrimination. But, in this case here, myself and my grandson are being discriminated against and denied because of the color of our skin.”

A worker at Dollar Tree who knew Taneka told us “Dollar Tree doesn’t care about their employees. You can give 120% and they don’t recognize it? All they care about is the dollar. I’m angry that they’re doing this. She didn’t deserve this.”

Stop and look at the larger picture. Dollar Tree is a large and profitable company. Last year the company took in $4.6 billion in revenue. The products on their shelves are overwhelmingly made by proletarian people scattered all over the world, paid pennies a day slaving in sweatshops. Dollar Tree’s customers are also mainly those in this country who cannot afford to shop anywhere else. And the number of those poor people is growing with Dollar Trees profits rising 20% in the last quarter.

And behind Dollar Tree and ultimately calling the shots in Taneka’s case is the Hartford Insurance Group (which brought in $25.9 billion in 2007), the parent company of SRS. Hartford is one of the groups at the pinnacle of American capitalism - huge banks and insurance companies which have grotesquely expanded over the last few decades and whose financial tentacles and search for the highest rate of profit ranges over a world-wide system of extreme exploitation and misery.

Historically, the wealth of these financial companies was built on the basis of an U.S. economy itself based in large part on the enslavement and trade in Black people as property. Hartford Insurance itself was founded in 1810 in Connecticut, a state where slavery, at that time, was legal. And since those days, a key pillar of this system has been the continued exploitation and oppression of Black people, though the forms have changed from literal chains to lynch mobs and Jim Crow to nearly 1 million Black people in prison today. Insurance Companies like the Hartford played a significant role in the development of segregated communities by engaging in what was called “redlining”—refusing to provide loans or sell insurance in Black areas. And through all of this they have fostered vicious racist ideas among white people to serve their rule. And now, Hartford claims that Taneka’s killing was a “personal matter”.

From slavery times to today’s globalized economy, these capitalists look at their system as the best of all possible worlds, and their actions justified as moral and proper. In fact, Hartford was named one of 2008’s “World’s Most Ethical Companies”.

The denial of Dollar Tree benefits to Taneka’s son, prompted outrage and attention. A white man, having recently moved to Fairfield, heard of Dollar Tree’s heartless decision. He had not even met Taneka’s family. But he was enraged and was determined to not let Dollar Tree to get away with this. By himself, he called for a demonstration in front of the store, and called local media.

When Revolution asked him if he had done anything like this before, he answered “No, I have not. Actually, I’m a pretty low-key person”. Then he added, “If it was me out here working hard and something happened to me on the job, I would definitely want somebody out here doing the same for my kids.”

Though he started out all by himself on the morning of the demonstration, holding 100 leaflets he had just written and copied (he said that he realized the night before that he had better have something to hand out), he was soon joined by first young cousins and nieces of Taneka (wearing hand-printed t-shirts in remembrance of her), other in-laws, then by her sister, and finally by her father and mother.

They told people Taneka’s story. Many people after hearing about the denial of death benefits turned around and went back to their cars refusing to shop at Dollar Tree.

Her sister related how Taneka was modeling, and hoped to be a dress designer. She had been buying patterns, and together they were planning to start a small fashion business. Her brother-in-law told how she reached out to everyone and was “a very beautiful person.” Her father regretted not getting back to her about loaning his car to her in the morning - she would have missed work and would still be alive.

This demonstration, though small, brought together the family of a young woman - another precious life cut short - and a stranger who came to them from a different place, moved to action by the injustice of what he saw. We need much more of this!

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