NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York’s civil rights leaders on Saturday 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 next 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 Mahattan Macy’s in handcuffs in June, and held for an hour, after purchasing a $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.
Brown told the newspaper he “implored” cops to check his ID, but “they kept telling me, ‘Your card is fake. You’re going to jail.’”
Retailer Barneys New York publicly apologized this week, and Macy’s Inc said late on Friday that it is investigating Brown’s allegations.
Police officials have said that grand larceny - which includes shoplifting and credit card fraud - are top priorities in midtown Manhattan’s busy retail districts. An NYPD spokesman was not immediately available to comment on Saturday.
Grand larceny accounts for more than 75 percent of all crime in the precincts that cover the two retailers, according to New York Police Department crime statistics.
Brooklyn nursing student Kayla Phillips, 21, said this week that she was surrounded by four undercover police officers in February after leaving Barneys with a $2,500 Celine handbag she had purchased. She plans to sue, said her lawyer Kareem Vessup.
And Trayon Christian, 19, said he was detained for two hours and questioned by New York police in April after buying a $349 Ferragamo belt at Barneys.
Christian filed a lawsuit against the store and the NYPD this week, court records show. Brown filed a similar lawsuit against Macy’s on Friday, according to the Daily News.
Barneys posted an apology on its Facebook page late on Thursday and said it was hiring civil rights attorney Michael Yaki of San Francisco, a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, to review the store’s practices and procedures.
At a weekly gathering at the Network headquarters on Saturday, Sharpton said racially profiling shoppers is intolerable.
“We are not going to live in a town where our money is considered suspect and everybody else’s money is respected,” he said.
Neither Brown nor his attorney returned calls for comment Saturday.
In 2005, Macy’s paid $600,000 to settle similar allegations that many of the chain’s New York stores had targeted blacks and Latinos for particular scrutiny of theft, according to the New York Attorney General’s office.
Grand larceny has risen 31.6 percent over the last two years in the NYPD’s Midtown North precinct, which includes Macy’s flagship store in Herald Square. It is up nearly 4 percent in the Upper East Side’s 19th precinct, which includes Barneys New York.
Reporting by Noreen O'Donnell and Chris Francescani; editing by Gunna Dickson