Photo: Elan Fleisher/REX USA.
As the Barneys racial profiling case continues, the retailer hired San Francisco attorney — and U.S. Commission of Civil Rights member — Michael Yaki to conduct an independent investigation. According to Yaki, Barneys employees did not "request, require, nor initiate" police action against either Trayon Christian or Kayla Phillips, who were wrongly accused of credit card fraud earlier this year. Though the retailer's investigation is a proactive step in an attempt to extinguish the claims of racial profiling, it has raised even more questions about the nature of Barneys' Loss Prevention program. As Reverend Al Sharpton told the NY Daily News, "If this report is to be believed, it raises more questions than it answers."
So, what did Yaki's investigation entail? A review of employee statements, as well as his own employee interviews and a thorough evaluation of the Loss Prevention department's policies. Not only has Yaki found Barneys' employees have done no wrongdoing, but notes that the Loss Prevention operates under a formal anti-racial profiling code. But, what exactly happened on those days when Christian and Phillips were shopping at the Madison Avenue store?
In Christian's case, officers were sitting in Barneys' security control room for an arrest of a separate customer accused of credit card fraud when they saw his transaction. Finding his purchase "too fast," they attempted to detain him before he left the store, even though Barneys' employees didn't raise any concerns. When Phillips purchased a $2,500 Celine handbag in February, officers were already at Barneys (apparently they just stop in from time to time), and watched her on camera, later confronting her in a similar fashion to Christian. The problem here, however, is that even if Barneys' employees never raised a red flag to police, why are members of the NYPD regulars at the retailer? And, if this is merely a formality, then why, like in Christian's case, are they undercover? As far as Sharpton is concerned, “If they have given the NYPD the right to do what they want, and they’re racial profiling, then you have turned a blind eye to racial profiling.”
In response to Yaki's reports, an NYPD spokeswoman told WWD , “We will review these legal claims.” WWD also cites an Associated Press report in which John McCarthy, the NYPD's chief spokesman, says, “In both instances, NYPD officers were conducting unrelated investigations and took action after conferring with Barneys' employees while in their security room.” It appears that we're now entering a bit of a blame game between the retailer and the NYPD.
Though this racial profiling case has not yet been resolved, and though Barneys has not claimed any responsibility in the incidents, the retailer has taken a major step by acknowledging that this issue isn't exclusive to Barneys: Racial profiling in high-end stores exists everywhere. The NY Daily News published a statement from the retailer: “Barneys New York has zero tolerance for any form of discrimination. While all of our investigations have been consistent in finding that no Barneys New York employee was involved in either of the deplorable situations concerning Trayon Christian and Kayla Phillips, an issue exists in our industry, and we intend to be part of the solution. As we have stated all along, if we learn any procedures or practices are not consistent with our zero-tolerance policy, we will immediately take corrective action, including terminating those employees responsible."