The New York State Attorney General has launched an investigation of the retail chains Macy’s and Barneys New York following complaints of discrimination from Black customers who said they were unfairly stopped by store personnel and police after making purchases.
The announcement of the investigation by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman came shortly after a meeting between Barneys senior officers and a wide group of civil rights and community leaders to address a widening level of allegations against the store.
Schneiderman asked Barneys and Macy’s to turn over by the end of the week information about their policies regarding detaining and questioning customers based on race.
"It has come to our office's attention that there are problems with what is now called 'Shop-and-Frisk' with some major stores in New York,” Schneiderman said, speaking to reporters in Rochester. “We have investigated some of them and talked to some of the people involved, and have now demanded information from Macy’s and Barneys."
He said a practice of stopping Black customers who make large, luxury purchases would be “totally unacceptable.” The attorney general added that “the law is very clear that you can’t violate people’s civil rights or discriminate in places of public accommodation, which includes stores.”
After a meeting at the National Action Network, the civil rights organization led by the Rev. Al Sharpton, the CEO of Barneys said that his employees had no role in the incidents where two African-American customers alleged discrimination and are suing the company.
"We believe that no Barneys employees were involved in those incidents," said chief executive Mark Lee, after the meeting in Harlem. "No one from Barneys brought them to the attention of our internal security, and no one from Barneys reached out to external authorities."
The meeting at the National Action Network in Harlem was attended by senior officials of the department store chain and some prominent civil rights and community figures, including former New York Gov. David A. Paterson, New York NAACP state president Hazel Dukes, Professor Michael Eric Dyson, the Rev. Michael Walrond Jr. of the First Corinthian Baptist Church in Harlem, in addition to Sharpton.
In a letter to the management of the stores, Kristen Clarke, the head of the attorney general’s civil rights bureau, said that companies should operate without racial discrimination.
“The alleged repeated behavior of your employees raises troubling questions about your company's commitment to that ideal," she said in the letter.
Kirsten John Foy, president of the Brooklyn chapter of the National Action Network, said the meeting was productive in that the Barneys officials appeared to take the allegations seriously.
“We discussed these two incidents and the others we’ve been getting calls about,” Foy said, in an interview with BET.com. “The genie is out of the bottle now, and everyone is calling in their stories of discrimination.”
Foy said that there are plans to convene the officials of Barneys with those of other department stores to discuss the issue of so-called “shop-and-frisk.” He said that the store executives should also denounce the practice of shoppers being stopped by NYPD personnel.
“The point was made that, if this is not their corporate policy, they should rebuke the NYPD,” Foy said. “They should be standing in opposition to what the NYPD is doing.”
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(Photo: N.Y. State Attorney General's office/Handout via REUTERS)