NY Probes Claims of Racial Profiling at Barneys, Macy's

Tuesday, Oct 29, 2013  |  Updated 5:19 PM PDT
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New York's attorney general is investigating allegations of racial profiling at Macy's and Barneys' flagship Manhattan locations after at least three black customers recently accused the stores and police of harassing them. Ida Siegal reports.

New York's attorney general is investigating allegations of racial profiling at Macy's and Barneys' flagship Manhattan locations after at least three black customers recently accused the stores and police of harassing them. Ida Siegal reports.

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New York's attorney general is investigating allegations of racial profiling at Macy's and Barneys' flagship Manhattan locations after at least three black customers recently accused the stores and police of harassing them.

Last week, two customers accused the NYPD and Barneys of racial profiling after they said they were detained by police on suspicion of credit card fraud after lawfully purchasing expensive items from the Fifth Avenue store.

Macy's in Herald Square was sued by an actor who claimed he was stopped while shopping because of his race.

In letters sent to both stores Monday, Kristen Clarke, chief of the Civil Rights Bureau in Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office, reiterated state and local laws prohibiting "racial discrimination in places of public accommodation" and asked each store to submit its policies on stopping and detaining customers, the number of customer stop-and-frisks broken down by race over the last year and all discrimination complaints filed by customers in that time.

Clarke also asked for a review of the stores' anti-discrimination policies and information on contracts with agencies that provide store security.

In her letter to Macy's, Clarke wrote that the recent allegations were "particularly troublesome" in the wake of a federal bias lawsuit the attorney general's office brought against the Herald Square store in 2005 that accused it of profiling customers based on race. As part of its settlement in that case, Macy's agreed to refrain from racial profiling of customers. The store, though it denied wrongdoing, also agreed to pay $600,000 in damages to the plaintiffs, establish a security monitor position, create rules about handcuffing customers and keep a log of all detentions, according to the Daily News.

In response to the lawsuit filed by "Treme" actor Robert Brown last week, which alleges he was detained buying sunglasses because he is black, Macy's said it had no involvement in his detention or questioning, and said the stop was an NYPD matter.

For its part, Barneys said it hired a civil rights expert to review its procedures and practices after the bias claims were filed against its Fifth Avenue location this week. Barneys New York CEO Mark Lee also apologized in a statement, saying "no customer should have the unacceptable experience" of being accosted by police after making a purchase.

Lee also met with the Rev. Al Sharpton and community members to discuss the allegations.

"We had a very candid and open meeting today to begin a dialogue," Sharpton said after the meeting at his National Action Network office in Harlem.

Lee said Barney's own initial investigation showed no employees were involved in the two incidents, but that the retailer wanted to be part of the solution to racial profiling in stores.

Sharpton said he wants to convene a meeting of the NYPD and CEOs of various major retailers on profiling.

Clarke's letters asks the stores to submit the requested information by Friday.

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