Racial profiling by . . . Macy’s?

Racial profiling is a term that we’ve been hearing a lot about lately. In the Big Apple, it’s peppered throughout many reports on the NYPD’s “stop and frisk” policy. It’s also been a major news item in stories about police activity in Los Angeles, Durham, and in a host of other towns and cities across the country. In each case, local police departments are faced with allegations that they are arresting a disproportionate number of persons of color, who have been targeted precisely because they are black, etc. So what happens with the private sector gets involved? A recent example was reported locally, involving an incident at Macy’s flagship store on 34th Street in Manhattan.

A security guard at the store says he started watching a shopper, Joweria Khalid, when she approached the jewelry department. He said he was watching her because she had two large bags with her; he also said she was avoiding customer service workers. The guard apprehended his suspect after, he claims, she tried to leave the store without paying for some items. She was detained for two hours, paid a $500 store fine, and was charged with misdemeanor theft, based upon the allegation that she attempted to steal just under $200 worth of jewelry.

The shopper claimed that the store guard gave an inaccurate account of the events, omitting some important facts: (a) the woman had possession of a sales slip for a bracelet she bought; and (b) she was apprehended on the an escalator while still in the store, and contends that she was on her way to check prices in another department. The situation becomes murkier as the result of some language difficulties causing the shopper to misunderstand what she was told by a salesperson.

The upshot of the entire case is that the shopper claims this is just another example of racial profiling by Macy’s, based upon skin color and nationality. Similar charges have leveled at Macy’s for years; around a decade ago, the store paid $600,000 to settle a complaint by the New York Attorney General.

Whatever the merit of the allegations by the shopper who was arrested, the Manhattan prosecutor dismissed the case – not, apparently, because he agreed with the racial profiling claim, but simply because he’d be unable at trial to prove the charge beyond a reasonable doubt.

George Vomvolakis Law Offices
275 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10016
(212) 682-0700