Shop and Frisk: Barneys CEO and Al Sharpton Discuss Racial Profiling Allegations

By Sarah Matheson, Epoch Times
October 30, 2013 Updated: October 30, 2013

NEW YORK—Mark Lee, the chief executive officer of Barneys New York, met with Al Sharpton of the National Action Network in Harlem Tuesday morning to discuss allegations of racial profiling of customers in Barneys high-end stores.

Lee spoke with Sharpton and others, including former Gov. David Paterson, behind closed doors in the National Action Network Harlem headquarters for more than an hour.

The discussions were prompted by lawsuits filed by two Barneys New York customers who said police detained them after they made expensive purchases in the store. Both customers were black.

Trayon Christian, a 19-year-old college student from Queens, sued Barneys New York and the New York Police Department after he was arrested after buying a $349 Ferragamo belt there in April.

Christian said the Barneys New York clerk had asked to see his ID when he was paying by debit card at the Madison Avenue flagship store. After he had bought the belt, undercover detectives stopped him, accused him of credit card fraud, and took him to the 19th Precinct stationhouse, the New York Daily News reported. He was later released and police issued an apology to him.

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Kayla Phillips, a 21-year-old Brooklyn mom and college student, filed a notice of claim saying she would sue the NYPD after detectives stopped her three blocks from Barneys New York’s Madison Avenue store in February. She had just bought a $2,500 Céline handbag, with her tax return money.

During a press conference that followed the meeting, Lee said a preliminary investigation had shown that Barneys New York employees had not been involved in the two instances of suspected racial profiling.

“Barneys has a zero discrimination policy,” Lee said, adding that if store employees were found to have been racially profiling shoppers they would be dismissed.

Attorney General’s Investigation

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sent letters to Lee and Macy’s Inc. Chief Executive Officer Peter Sachse. NYPD wrongfully apprehended customers in both stores.

Robert Brown, a 29-year-old actor, filed a lawsuit against Macy’s on Oct. 24 based on a June incident. Brown alleges he was detained and questioned about possible credit card fraud after he bought a $1,300 Movado watch for his mother.

Macy’s said in a statement that its personnel were not involved in Brown’s detention or questioning, and that it was an operation of the NYPD. Macy’s only supplied a room to police upon request.

“The allegations are especially concerning given that our company does not tolerate discrimination of any kind, including racial profiling. We are reaching out to Mr. Brown so we can better understand the situation,” the statement said.

Lee, from Barneys New York, said he had learned about the attorney general’s letter Monday night, and the company would cooperate with the requests.

The letters asked both stores to send the attorney general their policies related to questioning customers, and any records related to stopping and questioning any customers by Friday, Nov. 1.

Lee also apologized to Shawn Carter, a rap musician who goes by the name Jay Z. Carter had received criticism about his business deal with Barneys New York, following the allegations of racial profiling.

The charity, the Shawn Carter Foundation, will garner 25 percent of the proceeds from sales of Jay Z’s collection at the store. The foundation provides college scholarships to students with economic challenges.

Jay Z said he did not stand to make any money personally from the sale of the clothing, and that he had not pulled out of the deal because he did not have all the facts.

“I am against discrimination of any kind, but if I make snap judgments, no matter who it’s toward, aren’t I committing the same sin as someone who profiles? I am no stranger to being profiled and I truly empathize with anyone that has been put in that position. Hopefully this brings forth a dialogue to effect real change,” he said in a statement.

Sharpton said it was still not clear to him whether it was security employed by Barney’s and Macy’s who were racially profiling customers in high-end stores, or “rogue members that have some collusion with the NYPD.”

Grand larceny complaints are up roughly 8 percent in 2012 in the 19th Precinct where Barney’s is located. There have been over 1,200 complaints from the start of the year through Oct. 20.