The Retail Council of New York State joined forces with key retailers on Thursday, June 11 to open a dialogue on race and retail. “The Retail Symposium on Shopping Equity” brought more than 100 retailers, community leaders, and law enforcement officials together at John Jay College of Criminal Justice for a full day of panels and a town hall meeting to address the complexities of racial profiling and strategize ways to create a shopping culture that is welcoming to all customers.
The symposium, co-sponsored by the Retail Council and Macy’s, connected the wide-ranging groups to share their unique perspectives on racial profiling and develop a series of in-depth discussions about race, crime, and justice. Attendees examined the root causes of retail racial profiling — when certain consumers feel targeted and mistreated while shopping based on outward appearances, such as skin color, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or how they are dressed. In addition, they looked at its impact on Black and Hispanic communities, ways to manage implicit biases, assessed data on prevalence, and reviewed best practices to create an anti-profiling gold-standard solution.
“This is not a box we would just like to check…and say we had that meeting and now let’s move on,” said Ted Potrikus, president of the Retail Council of New York State. According to Potrikus, the retail industry wants to definitely get the message out that they are paying attention to profiling. “It is a tough issue to talk about and it’s one of those things where I think any retailer will say, This won’t happen to us’ – until it does happen…The issue is more than two brands, the issue is more than one borough. The issue can hit at any time. You just never know,” Potrikus said.
In addition to Macy’s, associate relations, asset protections and human resources representatives from more than 15 leading retailers, including Barney’s, Nordstrom, Walmart, Bloomingdale’s and Home Depot were present. Also in attendance were local and national Black and Hispanic community and civil rights leaders, including: Reverend Calvin O. Butts, of The Abyssinian Baptist Church; Michael Hardy, of the National Action Network; Michael Garner, of One Hundred Black Men, Inc. of New York; Gail Smith of Impacto Latin News; Rossana Rosado, former publisher of El Diario-La Prensa; and Marlene Cintron, of the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation. Broadcast journalist Soledad O’Brien hosted a town hall meeting and Professor Charles J. Ogletree ended the day with a talk on racial justice.
“Profiling is illegal, number one,” said Hardy, who serves as the executive vice president and general counsel of the National Action Network and sat on the “Perspectives from Community Leaders When Profiling Allegations Arise” panel. “It’s not good business and it’s not good citizenship. No one wants to come to a place where they are not welcome and no one wants to spend money where they aren’t [either.]” Hardy added, retailers should take note that Blacks and Hispanics’ buying power is $1.3 and $1.5 trillion respectively.
Butts, who was also on the community leaders panel, said that when it comes to spending their hard-earned money, Blacks and Hispanics need to redirect it to where they are respected.
“Racial profiling is directly connected to your influence in the marketplace,” Butts said. “If you use your dollars wisely, you can influence a change. If you continue to spend your dollars where you are disrespected, then people are going to treat you the same way.”
Butts also encouraged minorities to speak with their wallets at retail outlets that respect diversity throughout its organization. “It’s not only about shopping equity and how we spend our money,” Butts said. “It’s how [a company] spends its money. How [they] treat their employees and how [they] impact diversity in terms of their staff. Those messages of inclusion need to come from the top down.”
Macy’s CEO and Chairman Terry J. Lundgren addressed the audience, too. Macy’s, he said, has a long history of incorporating diversity and inclusion into all facets of its business. However, he said, he is aware that a “trust gap” exists between the retail industry and many customers who are people of color.
“If they feel like they have to look over their shoulder because of the way that they look or the color of their skin, or just the way they are acting inside of our store… If they feel there is mistrust on the part of the retailer … then we have to fix that,” Lundgren said. We have to be responsive to that and decide what we have to do to adjust so the consumer doesn’t have to adjust.”
Lundgren said one way Macy’s is addressing the racial profiling issue is by adopting and posting a Customer Bill of Rights – in both English and Spanish – that hangs prominently in each of Macy’s 50 New York stores and can be accessed online.
Lundgren challenged other retailers to do the same and encouraged them to also continuously improve training practices, and recommit to all aspects of diversity and inclusion. He encouraged company leaders to make shopping equity a top priority.
Lundgren ended his talk by outlining some of the steps Macy’s is taking to advance progress on racial profiling. For example this summer Macy’s is working with Mayor Bill de Blasio to create a program to provide summer jobs to 15,000 New York City underserved youth. Macy’s also established its Distinguished Lecture Series on Race, Crime and Justice at John Jay College this year. The series aims to maintain an ongoing, honest dialogue around the issue of shopping equality.
“Our college is right in the middle of the national discussion that you are all a part of,” said John Jay College President Jeremy Travis, who added the university’s student body reflects the city’s diversity since three-fourths of its 15,000 students are people of color. Travis said he was honored when the Retail Council and Macy’s asked John Jay to host the event. “You’ve taken a moment in your history to say, Let’s turn this around and figure out what to do differently’ and you’ve shown a commitment to do things differently and I applaud you for it,” Travis said.
NYPD Lieutenant, Tarik Sheppard, who was instrumental in creating the New York Metro Organized Crime Alliance (NYMOCA), was also on hand. NYMOCA is a private and public partnership that fights organized retail crime through sharing information with law enforcement and retailers. Sheppard encouraged improved cooperation, trust and information between retailers and police on a panel about the keys to successful partnerships between retailers and law enforcement.
Broadcast journalist Soledad O’Brien hosted a special town hall meeting entitled, “Where Do We Go from Here?” Panelist Kristen Clarke from the New York State Attorney General’s Office shared several best practices that her office learned from working with retailers. They include: taking a data-driven approach to stops and detentions to see if any person, department, or store stands out; have chief executives make clear that profiling won’t be tolerated; continuously train employees; take disciplinary action; put incentives in place; create and follow timelines for responding to customer complaints and adopt a consumer bill of rights.
Shortly after the symposium ended, Potrikus said the event was successful because it provided retailers with a clear cut way to deal with shopping equity concerns when they arise. Potrikus anticipates that industry groups like the Retail Industry Leaders Association and the National Retail Federation – both of whom attended – will keep the momentum going.
Potrikus said: “I think [the community] is seeing here that this is not just window dressing and that retailers aren’t saying that if we do this, then we are off the hook.”