Barneys, Macy's, and 'Shop and Frisk'

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

People protest outside Barney's flagship store, accusing the store of racial profiling, on October 30, 2013 in New York City. (Andrew Burton/Getty)

Recent accusations of racial profiling at Barneys and Macy's -- and a controversy over Jay-Z's partnership with Barneys -- has started a conversation about "shop and frisk" and the role of African-American consumers, particularly at the luxury item level. Rashad Robinson, Executive Editor of ColorOfChange, discusses the cases and what it says about both race and business in America. 

Comments [21]

Katie from Manhattan

My Indian doctor friend was accused of "switching tags" in Century 21 when one article she was purchasing at the counter did not have a price tag attached. She was brought into the basement for 2 hours and yelled at and accused of switching tags. When she tried to call her husband or 911 her phone was snatched away and flung on another table. The police came and handcuffed her and put her in a cell for another 2 1/2 hours. She has a platinum loyalty card to this store. Please do not patronize Century 21. This is part of a the ongoing "Shop and Frisk" harassment that has been going on throughout New York City

Nov. 20 2013 10:40 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Bill, the majority of shoplifting being done by people within a specific group (if that's even true) isn't the same as the majority of that group being shoplifters.

Nov. 12 2013 11:33 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

"I worked at an upscale clothing store on UES and almost every REAL shoplifter was a person of color, that was just the way it was"

Yeah right Bill - It is statistically close to impossible that the majority of shoplifters in an upscale store on the UES would be of color.

While you and your crew were doing a cavity search on a person of color wasting her money on a bag she saw in a rap video, Guiliani's daughter, Winona Ryder, and Lindsey Lohan, were walking right past you, blowing kisses with bags full of hot gear.

Nov. 12 2013 11:31 AM
Century 21 f*cked as well from Morristown, NJ

I was arrested by Century 21 in Morristown, NJ security-- myself, another parent and our kids (including 2 toddlers) purchased probably around $600-800 (between us) Century 21 in ailing downtown Morristown, NJ for a bunch of school clothes several early Septembers ago.

On the way out the door, the security alarm went off. Store security went through all our bag, dozens of items, and found a pair of socks that somehow made it into one of my bags without having been purchased. It was lunchtime and we had a bunch of now-hungry kids and parents.

Yet security, managers etc. insisted on detaining me for almost an hour, photographing me and my drivers license, checking me in a computer system (I don't know if it was linked to the police dept.) and warning me that if I got caught again I would be banned from the store.

Needless to say, I haven't given them the chance.

(And since the race game is being played for some reason, the full disclosure is that I'm white and all of the managers and security I dealt with were African American.

Nov. 12 2013 11:30 AM
Mike from Union Square

As an older white New Yorker I can relate somewhat to the experiences mentioned here. At times in the big chain drugstores I have been aware at times of an employee following me around the store. I'll pick up an item and walk around searching for other items and become aware of the same employee appearing at the end of each section I'm in trying to look like he's inspecting each shelf. I know me experience is very minor compared to what has happened to people of color. But they do at times profile "senior citizens." Maybe they think they can't afford the items or just shop lift as an activity. Maybe their distant corporate executives tell them to mistrust all big city people who don't look like them.

Nov. 12 2013 11:24 AM

What is missing here is the percentage, or total value, of Barney's stock that is shoplifted.

I am guessing it is at crisis levels, that their security is understandably in a panic -- and that they are detaining so many people every hour that frisk and detention has become routine.

Nov. 12 2013 11:19 AM

@Becca, they scan the items into a computer when you purchase them. They don't type in the code. There could hardly be a mistake at all. It is far more likely that it was your mistake in bringing the wrong item to exchange. However, I do agree they did not handle it correctly.

Nov. 12 2013 11:14 AM
JM from NYC

I don't think that examined numbers on unfounded harrassment by store security guards would ever be valid. I have been followed around stores and even had an experience where a security guard followed me out of a store and grabbed my arm.

I complained to the store manager, but I never reported it to police because I couldn't say that it was race bias, even though I am white and the security guard in this particular case was black. I wonder how many cases like this go unreported.

Nov. 12 2013 11:12 AM
The Truth from Becky

Jay Z is a business man first. This is non issue, just dont shop at Barney's. Put your money in a savings account.

Nov. 12 2013 11:12 AM
Amy from Manhattan

I remember reading (must be a decade or 2 ago) about a white shoplifter who would wait to walk through the detectors w/merchandise that still had the magnetic tags on at the same time as a black shopper, *counting on* store security to stop the black customer instead of him. He got away w/it for awhile.

Nov. 12 2013 11:10 AM

jay z's only allegiance is to his wallet. dont expect him to take a stand. he stands for money.

Nov. 12 2013 11:09 AM

dont stores have the right to verify payment?

Nov. 12 2013 11:08 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

When we had a small "mon & pop" shop in Brownsville, you bet we had to "profile." All our customers were Black, but some had to be watched more closely, or we'd have been out of business in a week. Shoplifters can wipe out a business in no time.

We got a black family that opened up a business right next to us, and thye were so "black power"that they had a picture of Idi Amin in the window. I was nervous. But within a week of opening the business, I saw the big burly owner and father of the family throw a bunch of black shoplifters down a flight a stairs. They store was up a flight of stairs. The owner told me, "You gotta watch these guys; they take your eyes out."

Nov. 12 2013 11:08 AM
Dorothy from Manhattan

I worked in retailing -- HR manager at a branch of a major retailer. This sounds to me like an overly zealous security staff (and the race of the security personnel doesn't matter -- and it doesn't matter how much training you do).

There's a tendency for security to see every shopper as a potential shoplifter and they think they know who's legit and who isn't.

Nov. 12 2013 11:05 AM
Amy from Manhattan

How much is this a chainwide policy problem or localized to individual store management? If it's the latter, I'd look at how the chain handled the reports of incidents at specific stores.

Nov. 12 2013 11:05 AM
Becca from NYC

10 days ago I went to Uniqlo on 34th St. to EXCHANGE items purchased at that location. One of the items did not match the product code on the receipt, but it was the same price. There was a mistake on the receipt since the item indicated on the receipt I did not own. The clerk had his nose turned up the moment I said "exchange", Long story short, he clearly countered their STATED STORE POLICY as indicated on the receipt "returns without receipt will be exchanged" (to that effect) and instead call Theft Protection when I asked for a supervisor. I'm sure that in his warped little head the fact that the Supervisor and I were both black weighed in his decision, and his lengthy phone conversation (he spent more time on the phone than providing service to me). It was embarassing...I left in SHOCK! I placed a complaint. I was told it would take 3 business days. I called them last Friday , more than a full week later, and they asked for "a couple more days to investigate my claim". In the meantime, I am stuck with an item I don't want and a bad taste in my mouth.

Nov. 12 2013 11:02 AM
pliny from soho

every week in The Villager there is a list
of thefts of credit cards from unattended bags
in local restaurants, quickly the cards are used in
the nearby shops before they can have been reported as stolen.

Nov. 12 2013 11:02 AM
Roy from Queens

Does these stores WANT to make a profit by alienating potential customers? Granted, shoplifting's a problem (I hated when my mother went to not-so-good stores on Jamaica Ave where you had to check your bags at the front), but this is beyond insanity.

Nov. 12 2013 11:02 AM
Robert from NYC

Are you kidding Brian! These stores obviously have racial problems. They, like the police dept, are profiling racially. I don't doubt that they also stop white folk now and then but the problem of following people of color and stopping them at the door is waaaay beyond any kind of watching that goes on with white folk.

Nov. 12 2013 11:02 AM
Mike from nyc

I knew someone intimately who was the trainer for Macys new recruits, salespeople, etc.

She was incredibly racist and her attitudes and treatment of people w darker skin were deplorable, she had racist views and beliefs.

Not sure if theres any connection but maybe considering her responsibilities in that job and influence.

Nov. 12 2013 11:01 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

There must be another way for retailers to mitigate lose prevention, outside of having innocent paying patrons getting arrested.

Keep people at the register for 10 minutes if you have to, while you verify.

Ask for 6 pieces of ID if you have to.

Accept cash only, for some purchases.

Nov. 12 2013 10:59 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.