Oct 27, 2013

I haven't written a commentary in a few months.  What brings me out of the shadows are the two lawsuits against NYPD and Barneys due to racial profiling.  The incidents have an even bigger profile now because Jay-Z is set to launch a holiday collection to be sold at Barneys on November 20th and he is being asked to end the collaboration.

In separate incidents, two young black adults purchased some expensive items and the clerk calls the police suspecting that their means to purchase these items must not be legit.  The police detain the individuals until they prove that the debit/credit cards used to purchase the items were in fact theirs.  Racial profiling is not new.  Being followed in the store is not unheard of.  Being refused service is also not uncommon.  All wrong but not surprising.  What is striking to me about these incidents is the gall of the employee to complete the transaction and then call the police.  If the situation were so suspicious why complete the transaction?  What is the basis for the suspicion?  We are known in this country for living beyond our means.  Our collective credit card debt is outrageous.  I would argue that a significant percentage of customers cannot afford what they buy from Barneys. But are they all criminals?  If the card goes through, no questions are asked.  Did these two young people previously try to purchase the items but their cards were declined so they come back later with cards with enough money?  Did their IDs not match the names on the cards?  If so, why was the transaction even completed? Instead, the employee decides to take their money and then falsely accuse them with no basis whatsoever.  Then to add insult to injury, the ones with a little more legal expertise take them into custody, even though they had proof a valid purchase, and detain them based on the erroneous statements of a store employee. These are all allegations and perhaps all of the details have yet to be disclosed.  But this is not some farfetched notion.  Racial profiling occurs all too often.  NYPD does not have the best reputation when it comes to race relations.

Now Jay-Z is in the mix and his recent statement clearly shows that he is irritated about being put in this position just before the launch of this collaboration. He wants to know all of the facts before making a decision because those who will lose the most are those seeking scholarship money from his foundation, that will receive proceeds from his holiday collection sales. 

So what do I think of his statement?  I have mixed feelings about it.  I respect not making rash decisions.  I am glad that he stated that he is not a stranger to racial profiling and does not tolerate it.  What I don't like is what feels like a guilt-trip stating that the ones to lose out are those aspiring to go to college.  I am sure that Mr. Carter is resourceful enough on his own and with his influence that those seeking assistance from his foundation do not have to suffer should he choose to end the relationship with Barneys.  I do not think that he has to end the relationship.  But I do think he has to hold their feet to the fire to ensure that nothing like this happens again.  Tamron Hall and Al Roker said it best when they discussed this on the Today Show.  At a minimum, he should work with the store to affect change.  Especially since it is likely that the young man that was falsely accused felt he could confidently go into a store like Barneys because of someone like Jay-Z.

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