Top New York shops face 'racial profiling' woes after black shoppers are held by police

Black shoppers complain that New York police held them after they bought expensive goods

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 October, 2013, 4:47am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 October, 2013, 6:51am

New York's civil rights leaders have angrily decried the city's brewing "shop-and-frisk" scandal, in which two major retailers stand accused of profiling black shoppers who say they were detained by police after buying luxury items.

"We've gone from stop-and-frisk to shop-and-frisk," said Reverend Al Sharpton, president of National Action Network, alluding to a police crime-fighting tactic that critics say amounts to racial profiling.

A network representative is set to meet this 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 made this week, actor Rob Brown of HBO's Treme told the New York Daily News on Friday that he had been "paraded" through a midtown Manhattan Macy's in handcuffs in June and held for an hour, after purchasing a US$1,350 gold Movado watch for his mother.

Brown said he came forward after reading news accounts of others who had had similar experiences at Barneys. He said he "implored" police to check his ID, but "they kept telling me: 'Your card is fake. You're going to jail'."

Barneys publicly apologised this week, and Macy's said late on Friday that it was investigating Brown's allegations.

Police officials have said that grand larceny - which includes shoplifting and credit card fraud - were top priorities in midtown Manhattan's busy retail districts. Grand larceny accounts for more than 75 per cent of all crime in the precincts that cover the two retailers.

Brooklyn nursing student Kayla Phillips, 21, said that she was surrounded by four undercover police officers in February after leaving Barneys with a US$2,500 Celine handbag she had bought.

And Trayon Christian, 19, said he was detained for two hours and questioned by New York police in April after buying a US$349 Ferragamo belt at Barneys.

Christian filed a lawsuit against the store and the New Yiork Police Department this week, court records show. Brown filed a similar lawsuit against Macy's on Friday, according to the Daily News.