NEW YORK (PIX11) - PIX11 posed the question on our Facebook page, “Have you ever been profiled when you’ve gone shopping?” The response was strong, and clearly resonated with viewers in the wake of at least two local, young African Americans saying that they’d been detained by police after shopping and paying for items they’d bought at the Barneys New York on the Upper East Side. Even one very prominent person of color told PIX11 News that he’s been targeted.
It’s all in response to Trayon Christian, 19, of Queens, being handcuffed and detained for hours by cops after he bought a $349 belt from the department store on Madison Avenue at 61st Street last spring. He recently filed a discrimination lawsuit against Barney’s and the NYPD.
Kayla Phillips, 21, of Brooklyn, has also indicated that she’ll sue after undercover cops stopped her after she paid for a $2500 designer purse at Barneys with her credit card.
Both incidents struck a strong nerve among viewers. 162 people and counting responded to our Facebook page question, “Have you ever been profiled while shopping?” Among the many compelling answers was this one from Larry Wallace:
“Yes! & I am 65. I always dress in a suit. I graduated from Harvard Law School with Mitt [Romney], but being Black trumps all that!”
Yvette Murray wrote,
“When I pay in cash they always “check” my [dollar] bills, when I pay by credit card they demand ID. Now I use my debit card, punch in my PIN and go.”
PIX11 also went to the shopping corridor on Lexington Avenue above 57th Street, and asked people there if they’d been profiling targets.
“I work full time, have a decent job, but when they see me they don’t see that,” said Matt Rozier. “They just see skin color. So yeah, it’s happened to me.”
Retail employee Gabriela Alejandro said that she’s never been targeted. Instead, she told PIX11 News, she’s seen how people shopping in the store where she works get targeted by staff. “I’ve seen them stop them, or follow them,” she said. “I’ve seen it happen a lot.”
Her observation was confirmed in a phone call PIX11 had with another viewer who works in retail. “There’s a secret code [at our store],” the caller said, “that alerts the guys in the basement to go upstairs and follow the customer around.”
And not every person who responded to the PIX11 Facebook question is black. John Baer wrote, “I’m tiered of it im a father and grandfather now , my tattoo’s are clearly over 30 years old give me a break!”
The fact is, some of the people best known for stealing from stores are Lindsay Lohan and Winona Rider. Nobody fitting their descriptions responded to the Facebook question to say that they’d been profiled. So perhaps the most fitting comment came from shopper Alex Durant, an African American man in his 30s.
“Watch me for the good things that I do,” he said. “Don’t watch me because you assume I’ll do something bad because of the color of my skin.”
A noteworthy addition to the chorus of people of color saying they’d been profiled at Barneys and elsewhere was megamodel Tyson Beckford. The fashion superstar happened to exit the department store while PIX11 was there. Beckford said, “I might have the most recognizable face in the world. I still get followed all the time any time I go to a store. It’s sad.”
He said that he regrets that “even though we have a black president,” young men of color have to assume they’ll be more closely watched in retail establishments. “And it’s not just here,” Beckford told PIX11 News, it’s even at discount stores, he said.
On Thursday Barneys issued the following statement on their Facebook page:
Barneys New York believes that no customer should have the unacceptable experience described in recent media reports, and we offer our sincere regret and deepest apologies.
Further to our statement of yesterday, we want to reinforce that Barneys New York has zero tolerance for any form of discrimination. We are a strong proponent of equal rights and equal treatment for all human beings. Our mission is to ensure that all customers receive the highest-quality service—without exception.
To this end, we are conducting a thorough review of our practices and procedures as they relate to these matters to ensure that they reflect our continued commitment to fairness and equality. To lead this review, we have retained a civil rights expert, Michael Yaki, who also serves on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. The Commission has been the nation’s watchdog for civil rights for more than 50 years. Mr. Yaki will be provided with unrestricted access to all aspects of our store operations.
In addition, Barneys New York has reached out to community leaders to begin a dialogue on this important issue.
CEO of Barneys New York