Al Sharpton and black community leaders met with the CEO of Barneys New York Tuesday to discuss recent allegations of racial profiling at the high-end stores. The meeting was called at NAN’s headquarters in Harlem after the group threatened to picket the store if alleged incidents of racial profiling don’t stop.
“As we continue to deal with issues of racial profiling and Stop and Frisk, we are alarmed that we are now dealing with a climate of ‘shop and frisk,’” Sharpton said at a press conference following the meeting. “It was in that spirit we have planed and continue to move forward some mass mobilization before the holidays to address retailers on that issue.”
For nearly a week, pressure has been mounting on Barneys after black shoppers made claims police questioned them for possible credit card fraud after they made purchases at the store. The stories picked up steam online, spurring outrage from consumers.
Trayon Christian bought a $350 Ferragamo belt from Barneys in late April. He claims after leaving the store he was confronted by undercover New York Police Department officers, who said a Barneys employee raised concerns over the sale. In court documents, Christian says he showed officers his receipt, debit card and identification but was told “he could not afford to make such an expensive purchase” before being placed in a cell for more than two hours. Ultimately, no charges were filed.
A second shopper, Kayla Phillips, came forward Wednesday to share a similar shopping experience after buying a $2,500 Celine handbag from Barneys in February. Phillips says she was surrounded by police after leaving the store and made to explain her use of a temporary debit card. Christian has filed a discrimination lawsuit against Barneys and the New York Police Department. Phillips has filed a complaint with a police watchdog agency for the city of New York.
The allegations of racial profiling at the Barneys flagship store in Manhattan even incited an online petition asking Jay Z to end his Shawn Carter Foundation’s partnership for a charity holiday collection with the retailer. The rapper released a statement Saturday on his website that he was awaiting meetings between community leaders and Barney before making any decision on the matter.
At the press conference, Barneys CEO Mark Lee read from a prepared statement reaffirming Barneys non-discrimination policy, apologizing to Jay Z and defending the store’s action in the cases of Christian and Phillips.
“A preliminary investigation has concluded that in both of these instances no one from Barneys New York raised any issue with these purchases,” said Lee. “No one from Barneys brought them to the attention of our internal security and no one from Barneys reached out to external authorities.”
When questioned, the CEO offered no an answer as to how police became involved in either case but did share the company’s regret in the impact recent events have had on Jay Z and his foundation.
“Mr. Shawn ‘Jay Z’ Carter of the Shawn Carter Foundation has been an exceptional partner from the very beginning. Our collaboration together is based on the shared mission of helping individuals facing socioeconomic hardships to help further their education at institutions of higher learning,” said Lee. “We deeply regret that these recent events have distracted from the great work of the Shawn Carter Foundation and we offer our sincere apologies to Mr. Carter.”
Moving forward Lee has promised a thorough review of Barneys’ practices and procedures to ensure they reflect the company’s “continued commitment to fairness and equality.” The store has retained an attorney from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights to lead the review. Monday, the New York State Attorney General’s office launched a probe into possible racial profiling by both Barneys and Macy’s.
Sharpton said, while community leaders are concerned with the cases that made news, they’re also interested in opening up a conversation about the conduct and policies of retailers like Barneys, and want to see an immediate meeting between community leaders and a broad section of retail executives to address racial profiling in their stores. Sharpton even promised to march on the home of Mark Lee if practices don’t change.
“We’re interested in a policy that will not render blacks as automatic suspects when they go in stores,” Sharpton said. “We cannot live in a city where our consumer dollars are devalued based on predisposed bias.”
Follow Donovan X. Ramsey at @iDXR.