A young black man who was stopped by police and briefly held after purchasing an expensive belt at the luxury retail store Barneys New York last spring has filed suit against the New York City Police Department and Barneys, accusing them of racial profiling.
The case has prompted an outcry from a New York-based civil rights group, and further strained the already-fraught relationship between minority groups and the city’s police force.
“Further action will be planned against the NYPD, [which] has a history of racial profiling against young Blacks and Hispanics,” the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network said. The organization also asked for a meeting with the chief executive officer of Barneys on Thursday in the wake of alleged racial profiling against African-American shoppers, according to the NAN website.
The young shopper, Trayvon Christian, 19, filed the suit against both Barneys and the NYPD in Manhattan Supreme Court Monday for an incident that he said occurred on April 29. Mr. Christian, a New York City College of Technology freshman who was 18 at the time, said he had been saving up for a $350 Ferragamo belt he had seen rappers wearing. According to court documents, Christian paid for the belt with his debit card and left Barneys.
A block outside away from the store, Barneys bag in hand, Christian was stopped by two undercover police officers, who asked the young student to show them identification and the contents of his bag, saying that someone from the store had raised concerns over the sale, according to court documents.
Christian said he showed officers the sales receipt, his debit card, and his identification card. The officers allegedly told Christian that his ID card was false, and “that he could not afford to make such an expensive purchase.”
According to the lawsuit filed, Christian was held at the 19th Precinct for two hours before he was released. No charges were filed against him, the Associated Press reported. The lawsuit alleges that the incident occurred because of “discrimination based on the plaintiff’s race and age as he was a young black American male.”
The police department told the New York Daily News it is waiting for a formal copy of Christian’s lawsuit, but the officers involved in the April incident are under internal review.
The NYPD said it has received 53 grand larceny complaints for credit card fraud at the Barneys Madison Ave. store where Christian bought the belt, and has made more than 47 arrests, according to the Daily News.
Barneys has tried to distance itself from Christian’s questioning by the police and issued a statement saying “no employee of Barneys New York was involved in the pursuit of any action with the individual other than the sale.” The statement added the store has zero tolerance for any form of discrimination, and extended apologies that any customer would have this experience.
Upon hearing about Christian’s charges against the NYPD and Barneys, another customer, who says she had a similar experience, came forward.
Kayla Phillips, 21, told the New York Daily News she purchased a $2,500 Celine handbag in February, and was then surrounded by police after she left the store. Officers asked Ms. Phillips why she used a debit card without a name on it, she said. After Phillips explained that it was a temporary card, and presented identification to the police, along with another debit card, they let her go.
Phillips said she also plans to sue the police department.
The NYPD has a long antagonistic history with minority groups in the city. Most recently, the police force came under criticism when the Associated Press uncovered an extensive police-spying program that targeted the city’s Muslim population and labeled certain mosques as “terrorist organizations.” Continued debates over the city’s stop-and-frisk policy, which critics say allows police to target blacks and Hispanics, have further exacerbated tensions between the force and civil rights groups.