Allegations from two shoppers claiming Barneys employees saw that they were black and made the snap judgment that they therefore couldn’t really afford their expensive purchases have led to a whole shitstorm of bad PR for the fancy New York retailer, drawing calls from the Rev. Al Sharpton to boycott the store and more tales of department store racial profiling from an actor on HBO’s Treme. Meanwhile, Jay Z, who’s collaborating with Barneys for a holiday collection, has taken a wait-and-see approach to the whole racial profiling fiasco, which apparent prudence has, in an age when everyone on the internet is his or her own Mega-City One Judge, earned him a whole shit tornado of criticism.
According to Reuters, Barneys is scrambling right now to repair its severely tarnished image. The retailer wants to remind the good people of New York that it’s still a place they can visit if they want to spend lots of money on stuff they probably don’t need, judgment-free. On Thursday, the store posted an apology on its Facebook page, and assured the good people of the internet that it was bringing in civil rights attorney Michael Yaki all the way from San Francisco to help it not be so racist anymore. See? Don’t you feel so much better about Barneys already?
There is of course still the issue of the shoppers Barneys allegedly harassed and detained after they made their purchases. Kayla Phillips, a 21-year-old nursing student from Brooklyn, plans to sue the store, claiming that undercover police officers surrounded her after she left Barneys with the $2,500 Celine handbag she bought with currency of the realm back in February. Trayon Christian, the 19-year-old whose own tale of racial profiling first brought Barneys under media scrutiny three days ago, was also detained by NYPD after buying a $349 Ferragamo belt at Barneys. He has filed a lawsuit against the store.
Sharpton, a veritable Swiss Army knife of phraseology, stepped into the burgeoning scandal on Saturday, calling for a boycott of the store and wondering out loud why the hell money spent by black people in Barneys seemingly isn’t as legitimate as money spent by white people in Barneys:
We've gone from stop and frisk to shop and frisk, and we are not going to take it. We are not going to live in a town where our money is considered suspect and everyone else's money is respected.
The retail shopping racial profiling short story series didn’t end with Phillips and Christian. Treme actor Rob Brown told the Daily News on Friday that he, a bonafide famous person, had also been “paraded” in handcuffs through a Macy’s in midtown Manhattan after buying a $1,350 gold Movado watch for his mother.
Grand larceny is, according to the Reuters report, a top priority for Manhattan’s famously busy retailers, and the NYPD maintains that grand larceny accounts for 75 percent of all crime in the two precincts covering Barneys and Macy’s. In a city, though, where racial profiling has become de rigueur for law enforcement officials, it might behoove some policymakers to reevaluate priorities that dehumanize entire groups of people.
UPDATE: Macy's says it has "looked into" Rob Brown's claim that he was stopped at the flagship store in New York and found that, according to store records, no employees were involved in Brown's alleged detention. From the AP: "Macy's says there's no record of any employee contacting authorities about Brown's purchase. The store says police officers requested use of a room in the building and that request was granted."
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