(NEW YORK) — Rapper Jay Z defended his relationship with Barneys New York on Saturday after facing increasing pressure to break ties with the luxury department store over accusations of racially profiling and detaining two black customers.
“The negligent, erroneous reports and attacks on my character, intentions, and the spirit of this collaboration have forced me into a statement I didn’t want to make without the full facts,” Jay Z said on his website. “Making a decision prematurely to pull out of this project, wouldn’t hurt Barneys or Shawn Carter, but all the people that stand a chance at higher education.”
The issue drew controversy following a fan-written petition calling on the artist to withdraw his support for the department store. The negative publicity comes just as Barneys and Jay Z are poised to introduce a collection of high-end merchandise. A fraction of the sales from the collection would go to Jay Z’s charity, which provides scholarships to needy students.
Derick Bowers started the petition on change.org, writing that were it not for Jay Z’s “vast wealth and brand power,” Barney’s would be treating the star the same as the two customers who claim they were detained.
Jay Z said he was “no stranger to being profiled” and empathized with those that had been.
“Hopefully this brings forth a dialogue to effect real change,” he said in his statement.
Barneys’ CEO, in a statement, says the store has reached out to New York City community leaders to begin a dialog on the issue. The Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network said it plans to meet with store management and to picket the store, if its alleged profiling does not stop.
The store’s troubles began when Tayon Christian of Queens, N.Y., filed suit Oct. 11, accusing the store of profiling. Days later, another customer, Kayla Phillips, of Brooklyn, N.Y., filed notice she also intends to sue.
Christian, in his complaint, says his incident took place around 3 p.m. on April 29 after he had bought a Ferragamo belt at Barney’s flagship Madison Avenue store, paying with his debit/credit card.
He left with his purchase. but a few blocks away he was stopped, he says in his complaint, by undercover New York City police officers who accused him of having made a fraudulent purchase with an unauthorized card.
He was told, according to the complaint, that his identification was false and that he could not have afforded such an expensive a purchase.
Christian was cuffed, arrested, and held in a cell at the NYPD’s 19th Precinct before being released some two hours later. No criminal charges were filed against him. His complaint says he was forced to endure scorn and ridicule by virtue of his public arrest.
He is suing for unspecified damages for violation of his civil rights.
Barneys, in a statement this week, said that while the store ordinarily does not comment on pending litigation, it was making an exception in this case.
“After carefully reviewing the incident of last April, it is clear that no employee of Barneys New York was involved in the pursuit of any action with the individual other than the sale,” the statement said. “Barneys New York has zero tolerance for any form of discrimination and we stand by our long history in support of all human rights. We are very sorry that any customer of our store would have this experience.”
An NYPD spokesman told ABC News that the department was investigating the incident, including whether the officers had acted on their own initiative or in response to a request from Barneys.
Barneys CEO Mark Lee, in a later statement, said the store was conducting a thorough review of its practices, “to ensure that they reflect our continued commitment to fairness and equality.”
The second incident allegedly occurred in February after Kayla Phillips of Brooklyn, 21, had purchased a $2,500 Celine handbag, according to the New York Daily News. The News reported that she, like Christian, was detained and questioned. She did not come forth with her accusation until this week.
Phillips has not filed suit, but has filed notice of her intention to sue.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
John Newsome and Anne Woolsey, CNN