NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York civil rights leaders on Saturday decried the city’s brewing “shop-and-frisk” scandal, in which major retailers Barneys and Macy’s are accused of profiling black shoppers who say they were detained by police after buying luxury items.
Also on Saturday, rap star Shawn “Jay Z” Carter defended his partnership with Barneys after coming under pressure to cut ties with the company.
“We’ve gone from stop-and-frisk to shop-and-frisk,” said the Reverend Al Sharpton, president of National Action Network, alluding to a police crime-fighting tactic that critics say amounts to racial profiling.
A representative of Sharpton’s group is set to meet next week with Mark Lee, the chief executive of Barneys New York, following allegations from two black shoppers that they were detained by New York police and accused of fraud after buying luxury items at Barneys.
In a third such allegation this week, actor Rob Brown of HBO’s Treme told New York’s Daily News on Friday he had been “paraded” through a Midtown Manhattan Macy’s in handcuffs in June, and held for an hour, after purchasing a $1,350 gold Movado watch for his mother.
Brown said he came forward after reading news accounts of others who had similar experiences at Barneys.
He told the newspaper he “implored” police to check his ID, but “they kept telling me, ‘Your card is fake. You’re going to jail.'”
Retailer Barneys New York publicly apologized this week, and Macy’s Inc said late on Friday it was investigating Brown’s allegations.
Police officials have said that grand larceny – which includes shoplifting and credit card fraud – are top priorities in Midtown Manhattan’s busy retail districts. An NYPD spokesman was not immediately available to comment on Saturday.
Grand larceny accounts for more than 75 percent of all crime in the precincts that cover the two retailers, according to New York Police Department crime statistics.
Brooklyn nursing student Kayla Phillips, 21, said this week she was surrounded by four undercover police officers in February after leaving Barneys with a $2,500 Celine handbag she had purchased. She plans to sue, said her lawyer, Kareem Vessup.
Trayon Christian, 19, said he was detained for two hours and questioned by New York police in April after buying a $349 Ferragamo belt at Barneys.
Christian filed a lawsuit against the store and the NYPD this week, court records show. Brown filed a similar lawsuit against Macy’s on Friday, according to the Daily News.
Neither Brown nor his attorney returned calls for comment on Saturday.
‘WHY AM I BEING DEMONIZED?’
Barneys posted an apology on its Facebook page late on Thursday and said it was hiring civil rights attorney Michael Yaki of San Francisco, a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, to review the store’s practices and procedures.
At a weekly gathering of his National Action Network headquarters on Saturday, Sharpton said racially profiling shoppers was intolerable.
“We are not going to live in a town where our money is considered suspect and everybody else’s money is respected,” he said.
Jay Z has a forthcoming collection of holiday items to be offered at Barneys, including a watch designed by Swiss firm Hublot that according to media reports would sell for $33,900.
A petition at the website Change.org has gathered over 13,000 signatures from people calling on him to end his partnership with Barneys because of the profiling scandal.
Jay Z said in a statement posted on his website on Saturday he was “not making a dime” from the collection and that instead 25 percent of all sales would go to his charitable foundation to help fund the education of disadvantaged students.
“Why am I being demonized, denounced and thrown on the cover of a newspaper for not speaking immediately?” he said.
He added that “making a decision prematurely to pull out of this project” would not hurt Barneys or himself but “all the people that stand a chance at higher education.”
In 2005, Macy’s paid $600,000 to settle similar allegations that many of the chain’s New York stores had targeted blacks and Latinos for particular scrutiny of theft, according to the New York Attorney General’s office.
Grand larceny has risen 31.6 percent over the past two years in the NYPD’s Midtown North precinct, which includes Macy’s flagship store in Herald Square. It is up nearly 4 percent in the Upper East Side’s 19th precinct, which includes Barneys New York.
(Editing by Kevin Gray and Peter Cooney)