As the holiday season fast approaches and all retailers hope to appear as attractive as possible to shoppers, Barney’s New York and Macy’s are dealing with accusations of racial profiling of customers of color, be they from the United States, the Caribbean or elsewhere.
The problem, dubbed “Shop and Frisk” by many, often takes the form of store security personnel watching or following Black and brown customers around suspiciously while they shop, for no other apparent reason than the color of their skin. Even worse, perfectly legitimate customers have been handcuffed, detained, and accused of using fraudulent and/or unauthorized debit/credit cards when they make expensive purchases.
This troubling issue was highlighted at a Nov. 1 rally in front of the Macy’s in Parkchester, sponsored by Bronx Assemblymember Luis Sepulveda, whose family roots are in the Spanish speaking Caribbean.
“We’re not here to rally against or kill business, and we are thankful that Macy’s and other retailers are here in Parkchester,” he said. “However, communities of color spend billions of dollars every year in retail stores and deserve to be treated with respect and dignity and should not have to worry about being criminalized while shopping.”
He went on to say that he and his fellow elected officials will work diligently to create a friendly business environment for retailers who value their constituents of color as customers and as people and treat them respectfully. “But if they do not, we will send a strong message that we will spend our money elsewhere because we will not tolerate any kind of discriminatory practices.”
Sepulveda urged anyone who has felt profiled in any retail store to come to his or one of his colleagues’ offices and inform them immediately. He also mentioned that he and other members of the State Assembly, along with State Senator Ruben Diaz, Sr., have introduced legislation to prevent companies from continuing these practices.
Standing shoulder to shoulder with Sepulveda was fellow Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, who is proud of his Caribbean heritage in both Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. He added, “Whether we are white, brown or black shoppers, we all pay with green money. It’s not like we get a special ‘minority’ discount when we go to these stores. If our money is good enough to make these retailers rich, our money is good enough to earn us respect as shoppers.”
Attending the rally was Farah Despeignes, whose family hails from Haiti. A high school teacher with a master’s degree, she said she has experienced racial profiling at large department stores many times. “I’m looking around in the store and maybe have a few things in my hands, and then I notice there are people following me around, giving me questioning glances,” she said. “It’s very demeaning and I get quite angry. Often I walk out because I figure if they do that, they don’t need my money.” She concluded that things like this have happened to her so many times she has become very sensitive about it.
Regarding Barneys New York and Macy’s, complaints have mounted to the point where State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has seen fit to launch an investigation into their security practices, ordering them to turn over a list of every shopper stopped and detained in the past twelve months, broken down by race. Both department store chains must also provide details on their internal policies for contacting police with concerns about shoppers.
Both stores are cooperating fully with the investigation. While a Macy’s spokeswoman said they would not comment on pending litigation, the retail giant did issue a statement saying in part, “We do not tolerate discrimination of any kind within our organization.”
Assemblymember Luis Sepulveda’s office is located at 1973 Westchester Ave. in the Bronx and can be reached at (718) 931-2620.