New York Under fire for Racial Profiling

file000704919536by Shirin

In today’s modern society several ethnic minorities have established reputations for themselves as strong, prominent, wealthy members of society. The US nation elected Barack Obama to lead America as president. It has clung on the words of Oprah Winfrey since 1986. So why is it insensible for citizens of the United States of America to assume that racist beliefs have diminished from the minds and hearts of their counterparts? Within the past year; several individuals of ethnic minorities have reported incidents of racial profiling in New York’s high-end clothing stores. African American racial profiling is a bad trend in national brand stores in New York, it has brought attention to the fact that racism still exists in America.

The trend in racial profiling is most prominent in Barneys stores in New York. Last April, a 19-year old African American engineering student by the name of Trayon Christian was demeaned in public by Barneys sales associates and NYPD officers. After he made a measly 350-dollar purchase at Barneys New York (Barneys sells items for as much as 100,000 dollars), officers stopped him outside of the shop and falsely accused him of credit card fraud. Apparently the Barneys clerks reported him with suspicion even after he presented his matching identification card and credit card. The policemen told Christian that there was no way the young student could have afforded a purchase at Barneys. The officers proceeded to handcuff him and put him in a jail cell for about 45 minutes. After he was publicly humiliated and belittled, Christian decided to take matters into his own hands. He hired attorney Michael Palillo in order to launch legal action against the NYPD and Barneys department store. Trayon Christian’s purchase was probably irrelevant to the revenue that Barneys brings in on a daily basis judging from their website, therefor the associates must have profiled him. They probably did it based on the assumption that he was not their intended customer. According to an article in the New York Daily News he carried himself in a civil manner while he communicated with the officers, hence it was exaggerative for the police to handcuff and arrest Trayon Christian.

Not more than 24 hours after Mr. Christian’s case was publicized; Kayla Phillips reported a similar problem at Barneys. The 21-year old African American nursing student purchased a $2,500 Céline purse at Barneys New York. Shortly after she left the store, 4 NYPD officers surrounded her and pushed her against a wall. They questioned her for 20 minutes with degrading inquiries on how she afforded her purchase. After Ms. Phillips presented her receipt, identification, and 2 debit cards, the police stopped hassling her. The 4 police officers did not need to exert excessive physical force on Kayla Philips based on the frivolous severity of their alleged accusation. In comparison to Trayon Christian, Phillips is also an African American accused of credit card fraud that was treated inappropriately by the same police department. It was unnecessary for the police to act and speak in such a condescending and harassing manner to the innocent African American woman.

Johnnie Roberts suffered an almost identical fate to that of Trayon Christian’s. 23 years ago Mr. Roberts, a Newsweek journalist bought a $600 dollar suit at Barneys New York. While he was still in the store, an officer approached him and claimed that Mr. Roberts had stolen a tie. The situation escalated after Johnnie Roberts denied the claim. Another security guard approached Roberts and the two guards forced him to a backroom where they frisked him against a wall. When they did not find the tie; one of them threw his coat to the ground, and sent him away sans any kind of remorse or apology. Like Phillips and Christian, NYPD officers treated Roberts unfairly and it was because of his African American heritage. This incident occurred over 20 years ago, it is a red flag that racism stores has been present in retail situations and the NYPD for a while now.

29-year-old Robert Brown, an actor who co-starred in the film “Finding Forrester” has also come out to the media with another case of racial profiling. After he made a purchase at Macy’s, Mr. Brown was arrested and detained for over an hour. The officers told him that he could not afford his sunglass purchase and falsely accused him of holding a fake identification card. Robert Brown is an African American man, who belongs to a high ranking-class. His scenario was almost identical in the fact that the police exhorted an unlawful amount of power on the young man.

Judge Shira A. Scheindlin, gave New York’s stop and frisk policies a thorough investigation in the most recent month of August. After she reviewed stop and frisk footage from police-worn cameras she released a 198 page ruling. Judge Scheindlin wrote that NYPD policies violated the 4th and 14th Amendments. The 4th Amendment protects citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government and the 14th amendment grants equal protection to people belonging to various groups. In her investigation she revealed a “disproportionate stopping of minorities as a result of characteristics of the criminal population.” In her research, she cited an analysis by Dr. Fagan. It showed that between the years 2004-2012 83% of the 4.43 million people who were stopped and frisked were of Latino or African America race.  The statistics are staggering, they give testimony to Trayon Christian’s allegations against the NYPD.

Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg would disagree. In his article titled, “‘Stop and frisk’ is not racial profiling”, he demonstrated that without his stop-and-frisk policy, the crime rate of New York would be a lot higher. New York is named the safest big city, under the stop and frisk policy its murder rate decreased by 9.9%. He stated that if his police officers were to stop women as often as men and senior citizens as often as young people the department as a whole would waste a lot of resources and money. However, what expense does he save money and material resources at? Innocent ethnic minorities struggle to cope with an overwhelming feeling of suspicion that looms in the minds of officers. The emotional toll that African Americans suffer through during racial profiling, according to the American Psychological Association, involves post traumatic stress disorder and other forms of stress related disorders. When ethnic minorities are exposed to stop and frisk policies under faulty accusations, they are mentally affected. Stop and frisk is not worth risking the emotional well being of people.

Anti-Racist committees and activists have also responded to Christian’s crisis. Change.org, Al Sharpton’s national action network, and political commentator Lenny McAllister, host of “The McAllister Minute” on American Urban Radio network have taken light to the unfortunate occurrence in order to raise awareness and prevent the atrocities that African Americans are exposed to because of racism and stereotyping. Change.org created a t-shirt with the words, “Barneys New Slaves” a reference to rapper Kanye West’s song called “New Slaves” that identifies racial profiling in corporate retail stores. The website also started a petition against world-renowned African American rapper, Jay-Z in hopes to prevent him from participating in Barneys Christmas campaign. The Brooklyn Chapter of Al Sharpton’s National Action Network asked for a meeting with the chief executive officer of Barneys and Macy’s and has plans to picket Barneys as well as take action against the NYPD. Political Commentator Lenny McAllister guest starred on NPR (National Public Radio) in defense of Trayon Christian. McAllister stated,

“We’re already risking a generation of African-American young men that are going to be lost or overlooked. Even if they’re talented, even if they’re doing the right things, they’re often overlooked by the mainstream whether it’s economically or in the media And so we have to be very, very careful to be mindful of these incidents and attack them as is so that we can optimize all the talent in America, especially at a time where we’re struggling economically and socially.”

McAllister implied that even under the Obama administration people undermine African Americans for their skin color. 
He made his point clear that these racist ideas are nonsensical because in the end, African American citizens have the same economical and social impact on the nation as other citizens.

Another NPR guest Martin Loyola, chief counsel of the Texas public policy foundation and a man of light toned skin color argued that even he felt out of place in Barneys when he went there dressed in urban casual attire. Loyola might have thought that Barneys was simply a place of stuck-up, judgmental characters. It could be that what was perceived to be racial profiling, was just another case of pretentiousness on the part of the Barneys sales associate. Perhaps Mr. Christian was accused of stealing because of his demeanor or his attire. If this was the case I do not think that high end stores like Macys or Barneys would have such a shameful history of other racial profiling cases on their hands? Was it just a coincidence that Robert Brown, Kayla Phillips, and Johnnie Roberts went through similar scenarios? Although I have named just a handful of ethnic minorities treated unjustly in the sales industry, there are probably thousands more that never bothered to bring their issue to the public’s eye.

Scenarios like Trayon Christian’s must be publicized and acted on in order for New York’s high-end retail stores and police department to progress as more civilized environments. Hopefully this recent issue acts as a reminder that all humans deserve to be treated in an equal manner. Ethnic minorities who are constantly undermined have the same potential as any other person to be the next president or Nobel Prize winner.

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