Buying while Black: NYC’s’ Stop and Frisk’ revisited at Barneys

Critics of New York's Stop and Frisk want rapper Jay-Z to break with Barney's over alleged episodes of Photo: Stop and frisk/ flickr

WASHINGTON, October 29, 2013 — A 19-year-old engineering student from Queens, Trayon Christian, carefully saved his work-study wages for three months to buy a $350 Ferragamo belt. Upon leaving Barneys, an upscale New York department store, he was stopped by police, handcuffed, and taken to the police station for two hours. He was released only after police verified that his debit card was in fact his.

The police arrested him after a Barneys clerk reported Christian for fraud. Christian was surrounded by police as he left the store. They immediately began asking him questions such as, “How could you afford a belt like this?” “Where did you get the money?” “How did you pay for this belt?”

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Christian is black.

Now Barney’s and the NYPD find themselves in hot water. Barneys issued a statement apologizing for what happened to Christian, announcing that they’d retained a civil rights specialist to review their procedures, and promising to reach out to the community. However, this isn’t the first time young blacks have been arrested or publicly harassed, which has the likes of Al Sharpton and other black community leaders raising questions about the NYPD and profiling.  

Even without full details of what happened, we know from NYPD reports that Christian paid for the belt. He committed no crime. Two months prior, another Barneys shopper, 21-year-old Kayla Phillips, a black woman from Brooklyn, was also wrongfully accused of fraud by a Barneys clerk and stopped by the police. She says she was pushed against the wall and harassed by NYPD shortly after purchasing a designer bag, which was again already paid for.

According to Phillips, the police asked her, “Where’d you get the money to buy such an expensive bag,” then asked what she was doing in Manhattan, as if she were not allowed to shop in midtown like any other Barneys patron. Once the police determined that her credit card was legitimate, they let her go, but critics of Stop and Frisk believe the initial arrest would have never occurred if Phillips were white. 

The belt Christian bought was from the new Jay-Z fashion collection at Barneys. Critics are pointing out the irony of the mega-star’s biggest fans, black youth, being treated by Barneys as presumptive criminals and are calling for Jay-Z to end his contract with the store. They want Jay-Z’s star power and fame to be used for more than selling clothes and albums; they want him to lend his name to publicizing the realities of racial profiling in New York City. Sadly, this is too often the treatment of young blacks, and not just at Barneys. 

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The NYPD’s Stop and Frisk policy is being revisited. Events like Christian’s arrest — and his subsequent lawsuit — should have businesses asking whether they want to engage in this type of activity as well. 

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