Amazon is under fire again for selling controversial merchandise, this time for delivering anti-police messaging, largely sparking outrage from a detectives’ union in New York. But this is the most recent example of the e-commerce giant letting items slip by that showcase potentially inflammatory language to a subset of its consumers, and casts fresh doubt on whether the company does enough to prevent offensive products from hitting the market.
A New York Post report cited a letter from the Detectives’ Endowment Association demanding Amazon stop selling items emblazoned with the message “Blue Lives Murder.”
“It has come to my attention that your website is selling T-shirts and other items emblazoned with the words ‘Blue Lives Murder,'” the letter sent by the Detectives’ Endowment Association to Amazon chief financial officer Brian Olsavsky reportedly said. “It’s disheartening that your company would allow this disgusting motto on your sales platform.”
As of Tuesday, apparel including a blue T-shirt from the brand Good-Looking Corpse that sells for $40 featuring the slogan “Blue Lives Murder” and face masks from the brand DBXAU that sell for $12.99 proclaiming “Murder is Murder” were available for sale on Amazon.
“As a retailer, we provide our customers with access to a variety of viewpoints across books, videos, and products,” an Amazon spokesperson told Sourcing Journal. “We strive to provide our customers with the widest possible selection, and we do not endorse the content of any particular book, video, or product. We understand that some customers may find some products objectionable, and we provide customers with a variety of ways to engage and express their views, including through product reviews.”
The products came a year after similar backlash occurred when a “Blue Lives Murder” T-shirt manufactured by the brand Cotinac was sold on Amazon for $19.99. The shirt has since been taken down.
Delivering controversy via apparel offerings sold by third parties isn’t a new phenomenon for Amazon. Last year, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, Amazon pulled a shirt that included a full-color photo print depicting the act of disgraced former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who has since been convicted of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, kneeling on Floyd’s neck. The caption of the shirt was titled “I Can’t Breathe BLM.”
The shirt was listed by one of Amazon’s third-party sellers for $14.99, alongside other merchandise that targeted Black Lives Matter supporters.
But even these instances have been far from the first scenarios where Amazon has seen controversial and offensive apparel appear on its site.
In July, Amazon removed neo-Nazi books and Ku Klux Klan merchandise, and then one month later also pulled down shirts with the phrase “Joe and the Hoe” that disparaged the then-vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris.
That month, Amazon also removed a listing from a U.K. footwear seller Rinco that referred to a shoe’s color as “n***** brown” after Parliament Member David Lammy brought it to attention via Twitter. Only days before the incident, Amazon announced a $10 million donation to groups dedicated to “combating systemic racism.”
In November, Amazon took down listings of products such as underwear and doormats with Hindu sacred symbols, which were being sold on its overseas websites, following an uproar on social media in India. #BoycottAmazon was one of the top trending topics on Twitter in India, with users sharing screenshots of Amazon listings of doormats and underwear emblazoned with insignia.
At the time of the removal, an Amazon spokesperson told Sourcing Journal, “All sellers must follow our selling guidelines and those who do not will be subject to action including potential removal of their account,” noting that the product in question was no longer available.
Amazon’s third-party marketplace is big business, expected to make up 60 percent of the digital behemoth’s U.S. e-commerce sales this year, or $220.39 billion, per eMarketer estimates. With that in mind, product listings on the website aren’t directly controlled by the company, although Amazon has final say on whether a product can be sold on its marketplaces.
This seeming lack of control over the product sold on its marketplace is ironic, given the many antitrust allegations against the e-commerce giant largely relate to its use of third-party sellers’ data to allegedly launch its own private brands. Most recently, Washington D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine filed an antitrust lawsuit against Amazon, accusing the company of stifling competition through agreements with certain third-party sellers, artificially raising prices for consumers and depriving consumers of choice.
But it’s clear given the product-related issues and the constant fight against counterfeit items sold on its platform that Amazon doesn’t always have the tightest grip on the individual products being offered to shoppers.
While Amazon says it doesn’t endorse content on any product sold on its platforms and provides customers with access to a “variety of viewpoints,” it still says sellers must “follow our selling guidelines,” indicating that products on the marketplace are largely accepted on a case-by-case basis, or at least until enough consumers criticize the product to take it down.