New York protesters target Barneys after black shoppers claim bias
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A small group of demonstrators shouting "no shop and frisk" gathered at the Manhattan storefront of Barneys New York Inc on Wednesday to express outrage over black customers' complaints they were stopped by police after making luxury purchases.
The protest, organized by Brooklyn pastor Clinton Miller, coincided with an investigation by the state attorney general into security practices at Barneys and fellow retailer Macy's Inc.
Four black shoppers have said they were detained in separate incidents at the two stores and later released without charges, touching off the latest racial controversy in a largely integrated city that nonetheless experiences frequent debates about prejudice and equality.
Fewer than two dozen demonstrators, some carrying signs, converged on the upscale department store. They wanted to deliver a letter Barneys Chief Executive Officer Mark Lee, who did not meet them. Protesters said they would give Lee two days to respond.
"The disrespect that racial profiling does to us as a people will not be tolerated," Evelyn Manns, a pastor at Brooklyn Christian Center, told the demonstration.
Conrad Tillard, senior pastor at the Nazarene Congregational United Church of Christ, told the gathering that demonstrators stood in solidarity with the shoppers. A transit authority bus driver shouted: "Right on, all day long!" as he pumped a clenched fist in the open window of his moving bus.
The two retailers and the New York Police Department traded blame on Tuesday over the incidents dubbed "shop and frisk" by tabloids after the controversial "stop-and-frisk" policing tactic, aspects of which have been ruled unconstitutional for violating the rights of minorities.
Barneys and Macy's officials said police had acted on their own, without input from store staff, in choosing to stop shoppers who included Rob Brown, an actor in the HBO series "Treme."
"We do not tolerate discrimination of any kind within our organization," Macy's said in a statement on Wednesday.
In a deposition of former Macy's security guard Brenda Howard taken in June in connection with a lawsuit, the former guard said that security staffers at the department store are expected to make five shoplifting arrests a week.
That deposition was taken in connection with a lawsuit filed by a shopper who contends she was wrongly accused of shoplifting and detained by store security in 2010.
A Macy's spokeswoman said the company would not comment on pending litigation.
On Tuesday, New York civil rights leader Al Sharpton met with Barneys CEO Lee, who said his employees had no part in two incidents at his stores.
"No one from Barneys brought them to the attention of our internal security," Lee said, "and no one from Barneys reached out to external authorities."
Likewise, a Macy's spokeswoman denied any staff member had a role in two incidents there.
Brown said he was handcuffed in June after purchasing a $1,350 gold Movado watch for his mother, the Daily News reported. In the other incident, Art Palmer, 56, an exercise trainer, said he was surrounded by police in April after using his credit card to buy $320 worth of shirts and ties.
NYPD chief spokesman John McCarthy countered those claims, saying that in both incidents at Barneys and the case involving Brown at Macy's, officers were acting on information provided by store security. The Palmer case is still under investigation, McCarthy said.