NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — The chief executive officer of Barneys New York spoke publicly Tuesday, for the first time since the retail store came under fire after claims of racial profiling.
As CBS 2’s Janelle Burrell reported, Barneys CEO Mark Lee met with civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton and other leaders from the African-American community Tuesday.
“We had a very candid and open meeting today to begin a dialogue,” Sharpton said after the private 45-minute meeting with Lee at Sharpton’s National Action Network office in Harlem.
Also attending Tuesday’s meeting were Hazel Dukes, president of the New York chapter of the NAACP, former Gov. David Paterson, other civil rights leaders, pastors and elected officials.
There was no mea culpa at the meeting, but Lee emerged with an apology afterward.
“No one — I mean, no individual — should go through the unacceptable experiences described by Trayon Christian and Kayla Phillips in recent media reports,” Lee said.
Christian and Phillips were the two black customers accused the luxury store of racial profiling last week after they said they were detained by police on suspicion of credit card fraud after lawfully purchasing expensive items.
Christian, a 19-year-old City College of Technology student, filed a civil rights lawsuit against the NYPD and Barneys New York, claiming he was accused of fraud after using his debit card to buy a $349 Ferragamo belt in April at the Madison Avenue store.
Phillips, 21, filed a complaint with the city’s police watchdog agency, claiming she had a similar experience after buying a $2,500 Celine handbag in February.
“We cannot live in a city where our consumer dollars are devalued based on the fact of predisposed bias,” Sharpton said.
But Lee insisted that in the two highly-publicized cases, his employees were not at fault.
“No one from Barneys New York raised any issue with these purchases, no one from Barneys brought them to the attention of our internal security, and no one from Barneys reached out to external authorities,” Lee said.
New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was not buying the defense.
“Apparently, there are some sort of policies between the stores and the NYPD to profile certain types of customers,” Schneiderman said.
The Attorney General is giving the company until Friday to turn over its policy on stopping and questioning its customers, as well as its training practices for its employees.
Two other shoppers have also accused Macy’s flagship Manhattan store of racial profiling.
Rob Brown, a black actor who works on the HBO series “Treme,” said he was detained nearly an hour by police on June 8 after employees contacted authorities about possible credit card fraud.
He said he was buying a $1,3000 watch for his mother. The actor has filed a lawsuit.
In a statement, Macy’s said there was no record of any employee contacting authorities about Brown’s purchase. The store said police officers requested use of a room in the building and that request was granted.
The store said it was reaching out to Brown, and continuing to investigate the situation.
Crown Heights resident Art Palmer said he used two credit cards to spend several hundred dollars on shirts and ties at Macy’s Herald Square back in April. He said he was then stopped by four undercover police officers outside.
Schneiderman’s office has also sent letters to the executives at Macy’s East, citing allegations the stores profile customers based on race and national origin and stating that was prohibited under state and local civil rights law.
Tri-State Area residents weighed in on the controversy Tuesday.
“You would think that in this day and age, they wouldn’t need to do that,” said Bill Rouse of Branchford, N.J.
“We try to see, how can we learn from this and do better?” said Annette Williams of Brooklyn Heights.
But even with the apology, some customers such as Cory Benton of the Upper East Side remained turned off.
“I’ll stay away for now,” Benton said.
They believe it will take real reform not only in policy, but in mentality, before there is any change.
Macy’s and Barneys have since pointed fingers at the NYPD, CBS 2’s Dave Carlin reported. Sharpton said he wants to convene a meeting of CEOs of various major retailers and the NYPD on profiling.
Lee also apologized to rapper and media mogul Jay-Z, who is preparing to debut a collection at Barney’s next month. An online petition and Twitter messages from fans had been circulating calling on the star to bow out of the upcoming partnership.
Over the weekend, he released a statement saying the profits of the collection are being funneled to a foundation that helps educate kids from low-income households.
“The negligent, erroneous reports and attacks on my character, intentions and the spirit of this collaboration have forced me into a statement I didn’t want to make without the full facts,” he added.
Jay-Z said he understood what it felt like to be racially profiled, but also didn’t want to jump to unfair conclusions.
“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.”
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