City Council Holding Hearing On Allegations Of Racial Profiling At NYC Department Stores
NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – More than a dozen major retail stores in New York City have until Friday to submit information to the City Council on how they’ve dealt with shoppers.
As CBS 2’s Tony Aiello reported, the city has made a list of 17 retailers – and checked it twice – as the holiday season begins. The retailers will be hit with subpoenas if they do not turn over all kinds of information about how they treat shoppers – including procedures for approaching and detaining people suspected of theft.
The hearing included written statements from both Macy’s and Barneys denying the allegations, though neither store sent a representative to the hearing, WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb reported.
“I’m offended that Barneys and Macy’s is not here. I think it’s insulting, not just to the City Council, but to the City of New York and the people who shop there,” said City Council member Jumaane Williams (D-45th.)
Patricia Gatling, the city’s human rights commissioner, said 17 retailers will have to submit two years’ worth of records related to the subject.
“New York City will not tolerate prejudice, bigotry, discrimination, or bias harassment,” Gatling said.
The retailers include:
• Century 21;
• Bergdorf Goodman;
• Banana Republic;
• Old Navy;
• Lord & Taylor;
• Neiman Marcus;
• The Gap;
• Saks Fifth Avenue;
• Bath & Body Works/Limited Brands/Victoria’s Secret.
Last month, Trayon Christian, a 19-year-old City College of Technology student, filed a lawsuit against the NYPD and Barneys, claiming he was racially targeted after buying a $349 Ferragamo belt in April at the Madison Avenue store.
Another customer, Kayla 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.
Barneys chief executive officer Mark Lee met with civil rights leaders and issued an apology to the customers saying, “No one should go through the unacceptable experiences described by Trayon Christian and Kayla Phillips in recent media reports, and we offer our deepest sympathies to them both.”
But the company insists its employees did nothing wrong.
In a report released Tuesday, Barneys said its employees did not initiate any profiling, and did not call police in to check out the two customers when they purchased expensive items in separate incidents.
“At no time did Barneys personnel either request, advise, or otherwise imply that the (NYPD) stop or detain (the complaining customers),” the report said.
Actor Robert Brown said he was stopped inside the flagship store in Herald Square last June after he bought a $1,350 Movado wristwatch.
Brown thinks he was stopped because he is black. He has filed a lawsuit.
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.
Macy’s said it does not tolerate discrimination.
Brown was invited to attend the hearing.
At the hearing, some were less than impressed by Gatling’s demand for documents.
“You will never ever have a piece of paper in writing from Barneys, or Macy’s , or Bergdorf Goodman, or Tiffany’s, that says ‘we racially profile and here’s how we do it,’ So come on!” said Bertha Lewis of The Black Institute.
The retailers themselves were no-shows, saying lawsuits kept them from testifying.
The NYPD and the Rev. Al Sharpton were also invited, but there were no representatives from the NYPD present at Wednesday’s hearing, Lamb reported.
But Sharpton said Wednesday he is likewise skeptical of the report saying Barneys employees did nothing to pursue or detain Christian and Phillips.
“They think we’re stupid,” he said. “There is no way the incidents we are seeing here could have happened without collaboration at some level with somebody in the store.”
The New York Civil Liberties Union said the NYPD needs to release a comment on the issue.
“It’s important that we hear from both the department stores and the police department what on Earth is going on when people of color go shopping and end up in handcuffs,” said Donna Lieberman of the NYCLU.
Meanwhile, hip hop mogul Jay-Z, who is selling a line of clothing at Barneys, said he will work with the retailer on issues of racial profiling.
However, due to the controversy, Wednesday night’s glitzy Jay-Z collection launch party at Barneys was canceled.
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