Students protest Barneys’ alleged racial discrimination

Hannah Luu/WSN
Hannah Luu/WSN

A small group of demonstrators gathered on Nov. 2 outside Barneys New York on Madison Avenue to protest the department store’s alleged racial profiling of shoppers.

This year, two black shoppers were detained after making expensive purchases. Both shoppers were not convicted, but one was arrested and is now suing the department store for racial discrimination.

At the store, co-organizer NYU-Poly sophomore Justin Sutton said the protest aimed to bring attention to racial profiling.

“I hope to accomplish bringing more attention to the issue of racial profiling and systemized abuse of police authority and power,” Sutton said.


Sutton said he was less interested in seeing a change in Barneys’ policies than in NYPD’s protocols.

“[I would like Barneys to do] nothing. I’m not even surprised by what they did,” Sutton said. “I’m focused on the NYPD. They need to stop. That’s what the issue is in my mind.”

Steinhardt sophomore Grace Plihal, one of the organizers, said she believes racial profiling extends beyond Barneys.

“What we want Barneys to do is to admit that they are a racist institution and to formally apologize for their racial profiling,” Plihal said. “It’s not just about Barneys, it’s about the fact that racial profiling exists in so many other institutions.”

The group stood outside the entrance of Barneys, chanting “Barneys encourages racial profiling,” while shoppers walked into the store.

Barneys issued an apology on the brand’s Facebook page on Oct. 24.

“We offer our sincere regret and deepest apologies,” Barneys CEO Mark Lee wrote. “We want to reinforce that Barneys New York has zero tolerance for any form of discrimination.”

Barneys also posted on its Facebook page on Oct. 23 that they conducted an investigation into the incidents and said its sales associates were not involved with the detainment of the shoppers.

Plihal said the protest was originally meant to be a sit-in but was changed to an outdoor protest.

“We realized it was more effective,” Plihal said.

Sutton said more organizers from around the city were supposed to protest as well but never showed up.

Demonstrator Kianna Jackson, a Tisch sophomore, hoped people would notice the protest.

“We’ve gotten a little bit of positive feedback from [passersby],” Jackson said. “It just sucks that they have Barneys bags in their hands.”

Sutton explained that he believes the police are looking for minority groups to target.

“[New York City] is progressively moving toward a police state,” Sutton said. “The police are basically just wasting their resources to go out and harass blacks and other minorities.”

“I don’t even understand why black people are buying stuff at Barneys anyway, if they obviously do not support minorities,” he said.

If the protest is not successful, Sutton said he plans to contacting governmental authority.

“I’ll probably write a letter to [Bill] de Blasio if he becomes mayor,” Sutton explained. “[If] I feel I need to say something again, I’ll probably just try and organize another protest.”


A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Nov. 4 print edition. Larson Binzer and Afeefa Tariq are staff writers. Email them at [email protected]



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