Barneys’ racial profiling case gets more complicated for Jay Z: New York Attorney General investigating

October 29, 2013

Jay Z is at the center of a growing controversy involving his promotional deal with Barneys. (ANGELIKA WARMUTH/AFP/Getty Images)

Jay Z’s big promotional deal with Barneys got more complicated this week, when New York state’s Attorney General opened an investigation into charges of racial profiling at the luxury retailer, Al Sharpton met with the CEO of the store, and Brooklyn pastor Clint Miller planned a picket in New York Wednesday.

Sharpton said he had a “candid” meeting Tuesday with CEO Mark Lee at the activist’s National Action Network office in Harlem. On the room: Hazel Dukes, president of the New York chapter of the NAACP, former Gov. David Paterson, other civil rights leaders, pastors and elected officials, reports CBS New York. But no sign of Jay Z.

The superstar mogul is at the center of a growing controversy about race and money — aka “shopping while black”– sparked when Barneys and Macy’s both came under fire last week for racial profiling African-Americans purchasing high-end items. Jay Z has a holiday promotion deal with Barneys and has been pressured by fans — using Twitter and an online petition — to sever ties with the store.

“I haven’t made any comments because I am waiting on facts and the outcome of a meeting between community leaders and Barneys,” he said in a statement posted on his website Saturday. “Why am I being demonized, denounced and thrown on the cover of a newspaper for not speaking immediately?”

The partnership with Barneys included sales of products by top designers “inspired by Jay Z” with a portion going to his Shawn Carter Foundation, and his involvement in creating its holiday window displays. He said erroneous news reports and “attacks on my character, intentions and the spirit of this collaboration” forced him into addressing the issue before he was ready.

The facts so far: Trayon Christian and Kayla Phillips said they were stopped by police after buying expensive items from Barneys Manhattan store. After Christian purchased a $349 Ferragamo belt in April, he was followed by two undercover officers, accused of debit card fraud, then handcuffed and detained at the police station, reports New York’s Daily News. Phillips said she was stopped by detectives after buying a $2,500 Celine handbag in February. CEO Mark Lee offered his “sincere regret and deepest apologies,” but Christian has sued the store and NYPD.

Last week, two shoppers made similar complaints about shopping at Macy’s, including “Treme” actor Rob Brown who claims he was handcuffed and held after he bought a $1,350 gold Movado watch for his mother.

New York’s attorney general sent letters to Barney’s and Macy’s asking for their policies for stopping, detaining and questioning customers based on race, reports the Daily News. The stores have until Wednesday to comply.

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Emily Yahr · October 29, 2013