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NEW YORK — The Barneys New York racial profiling controversy continued to gather national attention over the weekend when Jay-Z, under increasing pressure to withdraw from his collaboration with the retailer after it was accused of racially profiling two black customers, issued a statement on his Web site Saturday night.
He said that the collaboration was designed to raise funds for his Shawn Carter Foundation, which helps individuals who are facing socioeconomic hardships to help further their educations. “I am not making a dime from this collection: I do not stand to make millions, as falsely reported,” said Jay Z.
This story first appeared in the October 28, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The rap mogul said he was waiting on the facts and the outcome of a meeting between community leaders and Barneys and that’s why he chose not to make any comments to the media until now. “Why am I being demonized, denounced and thrown on the cover of a newspaper for not speaking immediately? The negligent, erroneous reports and attacks on my character, intentions and the spirit of this collaboration have forced me into a statement I didn’t want to make without the full facts.
“Making a decision prematurely to pull out of this project wouldn’t hurt Barneys or Shawn Carter, but all the people that stand a chance at higher education,” he said.
Jay Z said he has been working with his team to find a solution that doesn’t harm the people who stand to benefit from the collaboration.
“I am against discrimination of any kind, but if I make snap judgments, no matter who it’s towards, aren’t I committing the same sin as someone who profiles? I am no stranger to being profiled and I truly empathize with anyone that has been put in that position. Hopefully this brings forth a dialogue to effect real change,” he said.
Jay Z’s statement has garnered numerous comments on his Web site, “Life + Times,” and over 1,300 Facebook “likes” by the morning, in addition to stories throughout the media. Barneys also provided a link to it on the store’s Facebook page but no subsequent message on the controversy, as it did on Thursday when the profiling controversy became more heated.
An online petition and Twitter messages have been circulating in the past week, calling on Jay Z to cancel his collaboration with Barneys for the holiday season. The store plans to sell items by top designers, inspired by Jay Z, and he is also working with the store to create holiday windows.
The alleged incidents at the store have gained national media attention, and even were spoofed on the “Weekend Update” segment of “Saturday Night Live.”
On Saturday, the Rev. Al Sharpton addressed the racial profiling case at a morning rally at the National Action Network headquarters in Harlem. “We’re not going to live in a town where our money is considered suspect, and everybody else’s is respected,” said Sharpton. He said he has asked Kirsten John Foy, head of the Brooklyn chapter of NAN, to meet with Barneys chief executive officer Mark Lee. “If they do not get satisfaction Tuesday, then I’m going down there,” said Sharpton.
He added that young blacks save their money for things they want to buy: “They take a lot of money and go to your store, and are treated like suspects.” He said it’s gone from “stop and frisk” to “shop and frisk.”
Two black shoppers were questioned by police after they made expensive purchases at the Barneys flagship. One filed a discrimination suit against Barneys, the city and the New York Police Department. The other has filed a complaint with the city’s police watchdog agency as well as a $5 million notice of claim.
Sharpton said he wants to ask Barneys’ management: “What are you going to do about the lawsuit?” He said the store can’t say it’s sorry and try to deal with the situation without the victims being in attendance. “And what is the collusion between the NYPD and your security? The NYPD has got to be in the conversation. Show me how many whites they stopped. You can prolong all you want. We’ll be putting shopping on hold until you get your data,” he added.
Sharpton said people are trying to make the situation about Jay Z. “This is about Barneys first,” said Sharpton. “The holidays are coming, and I say let’s picket right on the corner,” which drew a round of applause. “This is the epitome of an insult.…We’re not going to take it.”
He told the crowd that a store can’t say “buy our stuff” and treat customers like that. “There better be some concrete answers or we’ll hit the streets,” said Sharpton. He said he’s waiting to see what the meeting delivers, and then they’ll take direct action.
At press time Sunday, Barneys had no additional comment on the matter. Lee, as reported, has agreed to meet with representatives of NAN this week. On Thursday, he posted a letter on the company’s Facebook page asserting that the company is a “strong proponent of equal rights and equal treatment for all human beings” and committing the store to a “thorough review of our practices and procedures as they relate to these matters to ensure that they reflect our continued commitment to fairness and equality.”
Barneys said it retained Michael Yaki, a civil rights expert who serves on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights who would be “provided with unrestricted access to all aspects of our stores operations.”
Meantime, Robert Brown, an actor who stars in the HBO series “Treme,” said at a news conference Friday that he was racially profiled at Macy’s Herald Square on June 8. He alleged he was stopped by at least three plainclothes officers, accused of using a fraudulent credit card and was detained at the store. He has also filed a lawsuit against Macy’s and the NYPD.
Macy’s said Sunday that the preliminary findings of its own investigation showed no involvement of Macy’s personnel in Brown’s detention, which were characterized as an NYPD action. “Macy’s permitted the New York City Police Department, at its request, to use a room in the Macy’s Herald Square store in relation to its detention of Mr. Brown, but Macy’s personnel were not involved,” it said.
It described Brown’s allegations as “especially concerning given that our company does not tolerate discrimination of any kind, including racial profiling. We are reaching out to Mr. Brown so we can better under understand the situation.” It pledged “swift and decisive action” if Macy’s antidiscrimination policies were violated.