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Corona student accuses retailer of racial profiling

Barneys New York department store is under fire after a college student from Corona alleged he was racially profiled. AP Photo/Frank Franklin II
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The New York state attorney general announced a probe into Barneys and Macy’s about racial profiling at the two department stores after a black teen from Corona was arrested when he bought an expensive belt at one of their Manhattan emporiums.

AG Eric Schneiderman is giving the two high-end stores until Friday to answer questions about security policies after four black customers said they were unfairly targeted in what is now known as “shop-and-frisk,” allegations that the black shoppers were racially profiled and wrongly stopped by police after making legitimate purchases.

A young man from Corona is at the epicenter of the scandal. Trayon Christian, 19, a student at New York College of Technology, sued Barneys last week following an incident April 29. Christian purchased a $349 Salvatore Ferragamo belt with a debit card and, after showing identification, he was singled out by Barneys staff.

He was later stopped by NYPD detectives a block away. He was handcuffed and taken to the 19th Precinct, where he was questioned for two hours before being released without charge.

The lawsuit claims that Christian’s “reputation and character were injured and he was embarrassed publicly” and that detention in a holding cell caused “great physical and mental distress and humiliation.”

Christian would not comment for this story on advice from his attorney. His 40-year-old mother, Selena Christian, a lifelong Corona resident, also would not discuss the lawsuit, but she did talk about the circus surrounding her son.

“We’re dealing with the situation,” she said, “because you really have no other choice in the matter.”

The case has set off a feeding frenzy, with the Rev. Al Sharpton contemplating a boycott of Barneys and Macy’s. Civil rights attorney Norman Siegel called on the city’s Human Rights Commission to investigate racial profiling.

Intense pressure came to bear on rap impresario Jay-Z for his partnership with Barneys. He is releasing a curated designer clothing collection in time for this Christmas season to raise funds for his charity.

The NYPD and the two luxury department stores are trading blame for the entire episode. Barneys CEO Mark Lee at a meeting with the Rev. Al Sharpton Tuesday said his employees had nothing to do with it, that no one at the store reached out to “external authorities.”

Meanwhile, NYPD spokesman John McCarthy said detectives and officers were acting on information from both stores’ security staffs.

Reach Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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