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Boycott threatened after racial profiling claims at Macy's, Barneys

Rev. Al Sharpton leaves Macy's department store, after meeting with company officials in New York, November 4, 2013. REUTERS/Adam Hunger
Rev. Al Sharpton leaves Macy's department store, after meeting with company officials in New York, November 4, 2013. REUTERS/Adam Hunger

By Curtis Skinner

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Reverend Al Sharpton and other civil rights leaders in New York on Monday threatened a holiday season shopping boycott after meeting with Macy's Inc Chairman Terry Lundgren to discuss accusations of racial profiling of shoppers.

Sharpton, who held a similar private meeting last week with the chief executive of upscale retailer Barneys New York Inc, set Wednesday as the deadline for Macy's to submit a written plan to prevent the kind of discrimination alleged by two black shoppers last month. Macy's said it would comply with the deadline.

"We are not, I repeat not, going to go through the holidays and have people shop where they are going to be profiled," Sharpton told reporters outside Macy's flagship store in Manhattan. "You can call it a boycott."

Sharpton said he and others "felt betrayed" by Macy's after black customers complained they were detained after making expensive purchases at the company's landmark store in Herald Square.

The New York attorney general's office is investigating both stores and lambasted Macy's in light of a similar 2005 racial profiling case.

Four black shoppers in separate incidents at Macy's and Barneys have said they were detained at the two stores and later released without charges.

Both retailers placed full blame for the "shop and frisk" incidents on the New York City Police Department, and said their employees did not alert authorities to the shoppers, who said they were detained by police because they are black.

NYPD spokesman John McCarthy said in at least three of the four cases, police were acting on information provided by store security.

Sharpton told reporters, "Barneys said they didn't make the call. Macy's said they didn't make the call. So until they find the invisible man, we may recommend that people be invisible in their stores."

Racial discrimination complaints against Macy's appeared to be mounting on Monday, as a lawyer for a fifth black shopper sought to expand his complaint into a class action lawsuit. The complaint said Constant Ouedraogo, 23, was detained by Macy's employees in a jail-like cell for more than four hours in July 2012 after he attempted to return clothing he'd lawfully purchased.

In 2005, Macy's paid $600,000 to settle claims that many of the chain's New York stores had targeted blacks and Latinos as possible thieves.

The attorney general's office is currently reviewing documents about store security measures at Macy's and Barneys after both stores complied with an order to turn over the information last week.

Crime statistics from the New York Police Department show grand larceny has risen 31.6 percent over the past two years in the Midtown North precinct, which includes Macy's store in Herald Square, and is up nearly 4 percent in the Upper East Side's 19th precinct, which includes Barneys New York.

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Leslie Adler)

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