Shopping While Black Can Lead to Arrest in New York City
Add “buying pricey stuff” to the list of things New York City cops punish blacks for doing.
In two separate incidents, black Barneys shoppers were stopped by police and grilled about the source of the money they spent at the expensive store. The cops seemed to believe that black people couldn’t afford to shop at Barneys and must have committed fraud to do so.
The first victim was Kayla Phillips, a 21-year-old who put her tax refund to use at the end of February to buy a $2,500 orange suede purse from Barneys. “I had been looking for that purse in that color for a long time, and it was always out of stock,” she said. When she found it she snapped it up, paying with a debit card.
Four plainclothes cops (four?!!) stalked her to a subway station where they publicly humiliated her, interrogating her for 20 minutes. “Two of them attacked me and pushed me against a wall, and the other two appeared in front of me, blocking the turnstile,” Phillips, who was pregnant at the time, remembers. She said they were “very rough.”
Next up was Trayon Christian, who bought a $349 Ferragamo belt he had long coveted. Christian, 19, is an engineering student with a job. When he got his paycheck at the end of last April he went to buy the reversible, silver-buckled belt. He used his own debit card, and, when the Barneys clerk asked him to show ID, he did.
He hadn’t gotten far from the store — about a block — when two undercover New York City police detectives stopped him and accused him of using a fake debit card. Christian told The New York Daily News that the “detectives were asking me, ‘How could you afford a belt like this? Where did you get this money from?’”
Christian says the cops handcuffed him, took him to a police station, and left him in a holding cell for two hours. When they finally let him go, they apologized.
Disgusted with Barneys, Christian returned his belt. “I’m not shopping there again,” he said. “It’s racist.” The police who arrested him said that Barneys had alerted them about Christian’s purchase. A store security guard told Phillips’ mother that undercover cops routinely patrol inside the store to watch for fraudulent purchases, which happen there about once a week. Barneys denies involvement in the harassment of its black customers.
Christian and Phillips are both suing the city and Barneys.
The $349 belt and the $2,500 purse — and indeed anything Barney sells — stand for something. In our materialistic culture, owning objects is seen as proof of merit, whether by talent, intelligence, diligence or good looks. Barneys quotes Sarah Jessica Parker on its website: “If you’re a nice person and you work hard, you get to go shopping at Barneys. It’s the decadent reward.”
Punishing shoppers for buying things and doubting their ability to afford the items is a way of saying those people don’t deserve their purchases.
By stopping, harassing and arresting black people who spend money, the city is policing both racial divides and social class distinctions. An exclusive designer purse is a status symbol that tells the world, “I have money!” It seems that, when the person carrying the bag is black, New York’s police department either doesn’t believe that message, or wishes it weren’t true. Staking out Barneys is a way to limit conspicuous consumption by blacks and reinforce the idea that they haven’t earned the right to own expensive things.
These cops have the potential to make the upcoming holiday shopping frenzy even more unpleasant than usual.
Please sign our petition urging the NYPD to stop the unacceptable practice of racial profiling.
Photo credit: Thinkstock/Digital Vision