Racism and luxury

Remember to remind yourself that the year is 2013 when you read about this case:

A 19-year-old college student from Queens says he was handcuffed and locked in a jail cell after buying a $350 designer belt at Barneys on New York’s Madison Avenue because he is “a young black man.”

Trayon Christian told NBC 4 New York on Wednesday that he saved up from a part-time job for weeks to buy a Salvatore Ferragamo belt at Barneys.

When he went to the store to buy it in April, he says the checkout clerk asked to see his identification. After the sale went through and he left the store, he was approached by police about a block away, and asked “how a young black man such as himself could afford to purchase such an expensive belt,” according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Manhattan Supreme Court.

Officers hauled Christian to the local precinct, where he showed police his identification, as well as his debit card and the receipt for the belt, the lawsuit says.

Police still believed Christian’s identification was fake, and eventually called his bank, which verified it was his, according to the complaint. Christian, who has no prior arrests, was released.

Again, this is 2013. This sort of thing should not still happen. When people claim that we are in a “post-racial” society, incidents like this prove that wrong.

Christian later returned the belt and is suing the police and the department store for an undisclosed amount of money.

Barneys responded to the suit:

Barneys said in a statement Wednesday that none of its employees was involved in any action with Christian other than the sale, and added that the store “has zero tolerance for any form of discrimination.”

That seems unlikely. The article does not state how Christian paid for the belt. If he paid with a credit or debit card, then asking for identification would be reasonable. They are supposed to do that. If he paid in cash, however, there is no reason to ask for his I.D.

Yet neither one of those would explain how the police knew he had the belt. That action suggests that someone called the police when Christian bought the belt.

Of course, this is New York City, and NYC does have a stop and frisk law. It is possible that the police randomly stopped Christian because he was a young black man in a ritzy part of the city and they wanted to know what business he had there. Even then, what reason could they possibly have to arrest him? What reason could they have to check the receipt? What reason could they have to call his bank and verify his account?

They could have taken him back into Barneys and asked the clerk whether Christian bought the belt.

This sounds like what it looks like: racism. I would say that NYC and Barneys are embarrassed by what happened, but I know that takes a certain amount compassion and common sense that they clearly lack.

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4 thoughts on “Racism and luxury

  1. That seems unlikely. The article does not state how Christian paid for the belt. If he paid with a credit or debit card, then asking for identification would be reasonable. They are supposed to do that. If he paid in cash, however, there is no reason to ask for his I.D.
    According to Daily Mail (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2472595/Black-student-accused-fraud-buying-350-Salvatore-Ferragamo-belt-Barneys.html) he was asked for ID when he made the purchase with a Chase Bank debit card. He presented the ID and made the transaction and from there the store called the police and reported fraud.

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