NYU Reacts: Shop-and-Frisk brings attention to racial profiling

Complaints have been arising the last six months over department stores Barneys and Macy’s supposedly racially profiling African-American shoppers. These incidents have come to be known as shop-and-frisk.

Most recently, Trayon Christian, a 19-year-old man from Queens, said the police detained him after he purchased a $349.00 belt from Barneys, allegedly because of assumptions that he could not afford the belt. He is now suing the department store for discrimination.

Kayla Phillips, a 21-year-old nursing student from Brooklyn, said she was surrounded by four police officers after purchasing a $2,500 purse from Barneys in February.

Two similar incidents were reported to have happened at Macy’s by shoppers, who both claim to have been detained after making expensive purchases. In 2005, Macy’s was accused of a similar incident and settled with the court, agreeing not to engage in illegal racial profiling.

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“Proving intentional racial discrimination in pattern-and-practice cases is difficult,” said Christopher Dunn, an adjunct civil rights professor at NYU School of Law. “But [it’s] certainly possible and has been done many times.”

Dunn added that racism can be objectively proven.

“Racial discrimination can be shown either through subjective intent or by objective statistical evidence that demonstrates that race plays a significant role in policing decisions,” he said.

In response to these allegations, LS sophomore Grace Plihal has co-organized a NYU Student Sit-In at Barneys to protest the events on Saturday. She explains that she is not surprised by the occurrences, but angry.

“I wasn’t in shock because things like that happen all the time,” Plihal said. “I was just angry. So I decided instead of just sitting around and being angry about it I should do something about it.”

Some students believe these incidents are part of a larger problem of racial profiling throughout the country.

Vince Vance, a Gallatin sophomore, stated that stores are adding to America’s cultural issue of racial profiling.

“[The incidents] promote these ideas that we’re trying to get rid of as far as racially profiling,” Vance said. “The whole idea of walking down the street and seeing a black person and automatically associating them with danger … It’s a problem that permeates America in general, which is why I’m not surprised that it’s happening. It’s a cultural problem.”

Oliver Richards, a second-year NYU Law student, said excessive police influence is a part of the problem. He stated that the issue is “overpolicification” — the excessive presence and influence of police action leading to abuse, and how it could harm society.

“[‘Overpolicification’ is] symbolic of a lack of compassion in society,” Richards said. “We look at people as ‘you’ and ‘us,’ and we look at ‘criminals’ as people who have some sort of moral defect or character, and we don’t want to see that within ourselves … for us to judge these people and say ‘oh, they’re somehow less than us and they deserve the type of police abuse that’s going on’ is worrisome.”

Adu Matory, a sophomore in the College of Arts and Science, said he acknowledges confines of racial issues is important, even within NYU.

“The majority of people that I hang out with [at NYU] are white,” Matory said. “Very few of my friends acknowledge that I’m black. Not that it’s necessary or important to me, but to acknowledge the confines of one person’s certain characteristics is important I guess.”

Matory also stated that students play an important role in finding solutions to racial profiling.

“I think its important for students to have a dialogue about isolated issues like these and put them into perspective so that they can later put them into perspective on a bigger scale,” Matory said.

Larson Binzer is a staff writer. Email her at [email protected].

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