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Here’s How New York Department Stores Are Responding to ‘Shop-and-Frisk’ Allegations

Here’s How New York Department Stores Are Responding to ‘Shop-and-Frisk’ Allegations

Written by Nicole Flatow

Over the past few months, African Americans and Hispanics have come forward about false arrests and aggressive treatment by New York department store employees and police that they say amounts to punishment for “shopping while black.” According to anonymous accounts from New York officials, the state attorney general’s office has received almost a dozen complaints of racial profiling while shopping at Macy’s, and several from minorities shopping at high-end department store Barneys. Now that the attorney general’s office and New York City’s Commission on Human Rights are both investigating the stores’ security practices, these stores and several others have issued a “Customers’ Bill of Rights” that will be publicly posted at stores.

The document “strictly prohibits unreasonable searches and/or the profiling of customers by any employee,” and states that employers may detain shoppers only with “reasonable grounds to believe that the person so detained was guilty of criminal possession of an anti-security item or was committing or attempting to commit shoplifting on the premises.” Punishment for violating the document may include discipline or termination of relevant employees. The document includes the phone numbers for the New York City Commission on Human Rights, the state Division of Human Rights and the manager of each store. Other participating stores include Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor and the Gap.

Public attention to profiling of shoppers escalated after widespread news reports about 19-year-old Trayon Christian, who said he was detained by police after he walked out of high-end department store Barneys with a $350 Salvatore Ferragamo belt he purchased. According to a lawsuit Christian filed, a clerk who asked him for identification during his purchase had reported that the purchase was fraud, and police held Christian in continued skepticism even after he produced his receipt, the debit card he used to make the purchase and his identification.

A day later, 21-year-old Kayla Phillips told the New York Post of an almost identical incident when she walked out of Barneys with a $2,500 handbag purchase, and several reports emerged about similar incidents at Macy’s. Actor Ron Brown, who is on the HBO series “Treme,” said he was handcuffed after he bought a $1,000 watch for his mother. Several Hispanic women, including NYPD officer Jenny Mendez, came forward to say they had been wrongfully arrested after purchases at Macy’s.

Macy’s has a history of racial profiling. In 2005, it entered an agreement with the New York attorney general’s office after an investigation found black and Hispanic shoppers were disproportionately stopped on suspicion of shoplifting. But that agreement ended in 2008. For Barneys, the recent reports may be the result of a new store policy that encouraged employees to “take chances” in stopping suspicious people to improve loss prevention.

The epidemic of what is now being called “shop and frisk,” a riff on rampant NYPD “stop-and-frisks” of minorities that a federal judge deemed unconstitutional racial profiling, is likely exacerbated by policies that encourage rather than discourage unsubstantiated stops. But they are not limited to New York or to department stores.

“This happens to me and has happened to me all of my life,” Marketplace Money host Carmen Wong Ulrich, who is Latino and Dominican, said of the recent incidents. “Security follows me, people assume that I’m going to return things — it just happened to me two weeks ago. The assumption is I can’t afford my purchases.”

Even President Obama said after a jury acquitted George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin: “There are very few African American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me.”

This post was originally published in ThinkProgress

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Photo Credit: Ingfbruno via Wikimedia Commons

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97 comments

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12:58AM PST on Dec 19, 2013

Boy cot the bastards.

12:27AM PST on Dec 19, 2013

In support of your non white compatriots, why doesn't everyone of all races boycott Macys and Barney's? Get their current staff and bosses sacked. Give them a Christmas they won't forget! HO HO HO! Merry Christmas!

6:55AM PST on Dec 18, 2013

Don't like hearing about these events happening. Will not shop in those stores. Don't understand how someone can be arrested when they have the receipt to prove they paid for something.

@Will R I have no complex of inferiority or superiority. And I am not profiling anyone.

@Lauren B I completely believe these things happen and it is insulting to ALL Americans.

@Pauline B I think everyone should boycott - not just minorities.

Agree Bruce K Don't they tag everything at Macy's now?

YES Priscilla L! Any form that allows me to choose 'other' for race I check that box and then write in HUMAN. "race" is a man-made idea, we are all human!

2:39AM PST on Dec 17, 2013

One of my law lecturers said he hoped he would be grabbed in a shop and accused of shoplifting. He'd have sued them for wrongful arrest, assault, battery, slander and a few others that I've forgotten.

9:48PM PST on Dec 16, 2013

Brian F: The majority of people on public assistance in this country are white, and have been since welfare reform in the mid 90s. The South is full of white people who've perfected the art of multigenerational welfare enrollment, getting their children labelled as disabled in grade school. You'll be pleased to hear that they share your views of minorities.

9:07PM PST on Dec 16, 2013

The color of the person isn't the only issue. What you wear into the store shows things too. I did an experiment, about the profiling game. I went into a 'high' class clothing store on market street, San Francisco. I had at least one person by me the whole time I was in the store. I took my time looking and pretending I did not see I was being followed around. I tried on the dresses, and when I went out to the main room of the store...there was more then 1 person following me. But I just headed to the counter with my choices. I was not carrying a purse, but when I pulled out a 'wad' of cash, the personal was all smiles, the tension dropped quickly, and the store personal went about their business.
I never went back to that store. That was many years ago. Today I might have been arrested.
As for my 'color' I'm Italian, and have people think I'm different nationalities.
Prejudice is a bad social issue and needs to be addressed with a heart.

7:28PM PST on Dec 16, 2013

Brian F - I wrote frank f in my response to your racist, factually inaccurate post, but boy did I have you pegged correctly for being a real honest to goodness racist! Thank you so much for removing any doubts. Now could you please go to your aryan nation or kkk meeting, they are waiting for you. In the future I shall not respond to your insane comments. Do so thank you however for a really good laugh and showing your ugly colors.

6:34PM PST on Dec 16, 2013

All I can say is this is New York again. I don't see how they can be arrested when they can proved receipts for their purchases. How are the cops justifying this and WHY would the stores want this type of bad pulicity. Get the word out and name all the stores. People can ALWAYS go elsewhere and even online.

5:46PM PST on Dec 16, 2013

Brian F - go spout your racist bigotry somewhere else. Thank the Gods that real people don;t have to live in the world you;re envisioning.

1:45PM PST on Dec 16, 2013

I wonder how many actual shop lifters got away with some nice loot while the store employees were harrasing legitimate shoppers?

Serves 'em right.

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