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Criminal Justice

The Jacksonville Tragedy at Dollar General Highlights a Big Problem with Dollar Stores

The stores, while convenient, have become ongoing targets for crimes and violence.

Dollar stores increasingly provide the only grocery option in neighborhoods such as New Town in Jacksonville, Florida, where three Black people were killed in a racist attack at a Dollar General. (Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

Before killing three Black people at a Dollar General in Jacksonville, Florida, on Saturday, a white gunman first stopped at a Family Dollar down the road, according to authorities. He left minutes after a security vehicle pulled up and parked in front of the store.

That and other information has led Florida authorities to believe that the 21-year-old shooter, who had also stopped at nearby HBCU Edward Waters University, intended to target a dollar store.

“Based off what we saw: him stopping off at the Family Dollar and working at a Dollar Tree previously, and then him going to Dollar General, that was his intent the whole time,” Jacksonville Sheriff T.K. Waters said, according to the Associated Press.

The shooting occurred in New Town, a historically Black neighborhood and home to Edward Waters University, Florida’s oldest HBCU. While it’s not known why the gunman chose New Town’s Dollar General — he killed himself after fatally shooting Angela Michelle Carr, 52; Anolt Joseph “AJ” Laguerre Jr., 19; and Jerrald Gallion, 29 — the stores have gained notorious reputations in some communities where they have proliferated.

While convenient, dollar stores are disproportionately located in low-income, rural, and Black areas. And they have become ongoing targets for crimes and violence.

Increasingly, they provide the only grocery option in neighborhoods such as New Town. The stores are designed with limited staff, few fresh food options, and a lack of exit doors.

Dollar General lists 46 stores in Jacksonville. There are more than 20 dollar stores — also including Dollar Tree and Family Dollar — in an approximately 3-mile radius of New Town, making them significantly more prevalent than grocery stores, according to an analysis by Capital B. In July, Dollar General began building a 10,640 square-foot store in southwest Jacksonville.

Since 2014, 53 people have been killed and 182 people have been injured at Dollar General stores, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive. In Florida, five people have been killed and 13 people have been injured. 

In January, a man who had been lured to a Dollar General parking lot in Louisville, Kentucky, was chased and shot before two people took his car and left the scene. A similar incident occurred there two days earlier.

In other cases, employees have been stabbed, shot, held at gunpoint, punched, and pistol-whipped on the job, NBC News reported. Some said they were left alone in stores for hours and worked overtime to stock shelves.  

In Monroe, Louisiana, a store manager shot and killed a man who was attempting to rob the store with a handgun in January. A manslaughter charge against him was later dropped.

Some communities are fighting back. About 54 cities and towns have enacted laws to restrict new dollar stores. At least 75 communities have blocked proposed dollar stores, with the majority occurring between 2021 and 2022, according to a report by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

In Toledo, Ohio, where community leaders are pushing the city to ban dollar stores altogether, a 16-year-old was grazed by a bullet at a Dollar General recently when a gun held by a nearby customer accidentally went off. The injuries were non-life-threatening.

In a written statement about the Jacksonville attack, the company said, “We extend our deepest sympathies to their families and friends as we all try to comprehend this tragedy.” It added, “There is no place for hate at Dollar General or in the communities we serve.”

In an email response to Capital B, a spokesperson said the company will enhance its security measures at all Jacksonville stores. 

“We have invested and will continue to invest in various security measures as appropriate for each store. Examples of such measures include, but are not limited to, enhanced and additional interior and exterior lighting, security cameras and monitors, in-store CCTV and other safety and security protocols and training,” the statement said.

For the past couple of nights, Sharon Austin has barely slept as she mourns the loss of those killed at the Dollar General store. 

Austin lives in Clay County, the same county where the gunman lived, and is an avid dollar store shopper. The 21-year-old shooter, who police said left behind writings filled with hate and racial slurs, could have easily traveled to the Dollar General store that she frequents with her child and committed the same atrocity. 

“My son who’s autistic loves Dollar General, and we always go because it’s easier for us to get in and get what you need and get out,” said Austin, a political science professor at the University of Florida. “It’s just so frightening, the times that we live in.”

Nationwide, Dollar General and Dollar Tree, which owns Family Dollar, operated more than 34,000 stores at the beginning of last year — more than McDonald’s, Starbucks, Target, and Walmart combined. In the future, they plan to grow to more than 51,000 stores.

For more than a decade, these stores have been the fastest-growing food retailers by household expenditure share, according to Tufts University. Dollar stores may be filling food voids where local grocers do not have enough businesses to support maintaining a store, the Tufts researchers wrote, leaving residents with fewer food options, especially in rural areas. 

But the Institute for Local Self-Reliance report found that dollar stores aren’t necessarily filling a void — they are the cause of economic distress in Black communities. The stores drive grocery stores and other retailers out of business, which leaves people without access to fresh food. The authors of the report argue the stores stifle economic growth and job creation, exacerbate food insecurity, and sow crime. 

Experts say the only way to improve concerns around public safety and food availability is to address the devaluation and neglect of Black communities by investing in them. Just as a racist attack on Black people is violence, so is exploitation and neglect of Black communities, says Andre Perry, a senior fellow at Brookings Metro.

“The remedy for the downstream acute level of violence resulting from racism is the same for the violence that comes from divestment, and that is by investing in Black people and places that are majority Black,” Perry told Capital B. “Nothing improves without investment. In so many ways, I feel justice is not simply about holding individuals accountable. It’s also about investing in the people who have been harmed by racism.”

This story has been updated.

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