Fourth New Yorker accuses a department store of racial profiling

Posted at 2:47 PM, Oct 28, 2013
and last updated 2013-10-28 14:47:35-04

By Julia Lull. Morgan Winsor and Laura Ly


NEW YORK (CNN) — A fourth New Yorker is saying that he was targeted outside a New York City department store because of his race.

Art Palmer, 56, of Brooklyn told CNN he was stopped by New York Police Department officers in April after he left the Macy’s department store in Herald Square. He had two bags of merchandise on him — about eight items total — when, he said, police stopped him and searched both bags to see if his receipts matched what was in the bags.

After being detained for about 10 minutes, Palmer said, police released him and told him he had been stopped because they had lost track of him on store surveillance cameras.

Palmer said he has spoken to management at Macy’s and officers at the NYPD midtown police precinct about the incident, and was told that the officers who stopped him outside the store were just doing their jobs.

Palmer said that with the help of state Sen. Eric Adams, he has filed a complaint with the civilian review board.

Macy’s and the NYPD could not be reached for comment about the incident.

The allegation of racial profiling comes after one other involving the same Macy’s department store and two involving Barneys New York.

HBO television actor Robert Brown said at a news conference this month that he was racially profiled at the Herald Square Macy’s in June. Brown said at least three plainclothes officers stopped him, accused him of using a fraudulent credit card and detained him inside the store.

Brown, star of HBO’s “Treme,” has filed a lawsuit against the NYPD seeking yet-to-be-specified damages, he said.

The NYPD did not respond to CNN’s request for comment about Brown’s claims.

In an e-mail to CNN, Elina Kazan, vice president of media relations for Macy’s, said the department store is investigating the allegations but does “not comment on matters in litigation.”

In a similar incident, Kayla Phillips, 21, told reporters last week that four plainclothes officers forcefully stopped her after she left Barneys with her purchase in February.

She and Trayon Christian, 19, who said he also was racially profiled after purchasing a belt at Barneys in April, want damages from the store and the New York Police Department. Christian has filed a lawsuit.

Phillips said that she had been eyeing a $2,500 orange suede Celine bag after a friend bought one for his mother.

After showing the cashier her ID, Phillips said, she paid at a register and left the store with the item in a Barneys bag. She walked out of the Madison Avenue store to 59th Street, where the officers stopped her, she said.

“I was attacked,” Phillips said.

The officers — three male and one female — questioned her, she said.

“How did you buy this bag, where did you get the money from?” the female officer asked her, Phillips said.

Phillips showed them her debit card, which the female officer took and showed to her partners, bending and examining it, she said. After verifying Phillips’ purchase and returning her card, the officers let her go and did not apologize, she said.

In a prepared statement, Mark Lee, CEO of Barneys New York, said “no customer should have the unacceptable experience described in recent media reports, and we offer our sincere regret and deepest apologies.”

“We want to reinforce that Barneys New York has zero tolerance for any form of discrimination. Our mission is to ensure that all customers receive the highest-quality service — without exception,” he said.

Speaking to the claims by Christian, the company said no employee was involved “in the pursuit of any action with the individual other than the sale.”

In a statement, the New York Police Department said, “We are investigating the allegation.” The department directed CNN to its legal department.

Kareem Vessup, Phillips’ attorney, said an impending lawsuit could seek $5 million in punitive damages, but the exact amount is still undetermined. He said both Barneys and the NYPD should reevaluate their practices on “shop and frisk.”

“There’s a call for change,” Vessup said. “How long had this been going on? Who else may have been affected by this practice?”

Christian, a New York City College of Technology student, entered Barneys on April 29 to buy a Ferragamo belt he had seen rappers wear on television, his attorney, Michael Palillo, told CNN on Wednesday.

Christian bought the belt, left the store and walked a block before two undercover police officers stopped him, Palillo said.

When they saw the designer belt, they asked him how he was able to afford it, Palillo said. The officers allegedly accused him of purchasing the belt with a fraudulent card and said they had received a call from Barneys, according to Palillo.

Christian said he was detained in a holding cell for two hours and interrogated, as police contacted Chase Bank to check his card, Palillo said.

When they confirmed that his card was valid, police released Christian and apologized, Palillo said.

Rap mogul Jay-Z — who has been thrust into the debate over alleged racial profiling at Barneys New York — broke his silence Saturday, defending himself from critics who have insisted he break off his partnership with the department store over the allegations.

The music icon and entrepreneur spoke in an online statement the day after Phillips, an African-American college student, made her allegations.

Jay-Z has a fashion line that is set to sell at Barneys. A petition calling for him to end this collaboration had more than 13,000 signatures Saturday night.

“Right as Jay-Z prepares to roll out a new partnership with Barneys New York for the holiday shopping season, I’ve been disappointed to hear new allegations about how the retailer treats young black consumers,” wrote the petition’s creator, Derick Bowers of Brooklyn.

The celebrity — born Shawn Carter, who in addition to being a rapper runs restaurants, a sport agency and other ventures — on Saturday issued a statement on his website that said he doesn’t want to jump to conclusions without all the facts.

He said proceeds from his partnership will benefit his charitable foundation, not him, and insisted, “My idea was born out of creativity and charity … not profit.” Bringing him into this debate, the rapper added, isn’t fair — especially since the truth hasn’t been established in the racial profiling cases.

“Why am I being demonized, denounced and thrown on the cover of a newspaper for not speaking immediately?” he wrote. “The negligent, erroneous reports and attacks on my character, intentions, and the spirit of this collaboration have forced me into a statement I didn’t want to make without the full facts.”

He added that he and his team are working “to get to the bottom of these incidents and at the same time find a solution that doesn’t harm all those that stand to benefit from this collaboration.”

“I am against discrimination of any kind, but if I make snap judgments, no matter who it’s towards, aren’t I committing the same sin as someone who profiles?” he said. “I am no stranger to being profiled and I truly empathize with anyone that has been put in that position. Hopefully this brings forth a dialogue to effect real change.”

CNN’s Greg Botelho and Julia Talanova contributed to this report.

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