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Barney's accused of racial profiling
03:19 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

NEW: Some have called for Jay Z to end his Barneys partnership over profiling claims

NEW: He says he didn't want to speak until all the facts were clear, now feels obliged

African-American shoppers claim they were profiled at high-end retailer

"Barneys New York has zero tolerance for any form of discrimination," company says

New York CNN  — 

Rap mogul Jay Z – who has been thrust into a debate over alleged racial profiling at Barneys New York – broke his silence Saturday, defending himself from critics who have insisted he break off his partnership with the tony department store over the allegations.

The music icon and entrepreneur spoke in an online statement a day after a second African-American college student claimed that an undercover officers stopped and questioned her after she bought a $2,500 bag at the Manhattan store.

Jay Z himself has nothing to do with these cases, though he does have something to do with Barneys: He has a fashion line that is set to sell there. A petition calling for him to end this collaboration had more than 13,000 signatures Saturday night.

“Right as Jay Z prepares to roll out a new partnership with Barneys New York for the holiday shopping season, I’ve been disappointed to hear new allegations about how the retailer treats young black consumers,” wrote the petition’s creator, Derick Bowers of Brooklyn.

The celebrity – born Shawn Carter, who in addition to being a rapper runs restaurants, a sport agency and other ventures – on Saturday issued a statement on his website explaining his silence to date by explaining that he doesn’t want to jump to conclusions without all the facts.

He pointed out that proceeds from his partnership will benefit his charitable foundation, not him, and insisted, “My idea was born out of creativity and charity … not profit.” Bringing him into this debate, the rapper added, isn’t fair – especially since the truth hasn’t been established in the racial profiling cases.

“Why am I being demonized, denounced and thrown on the cover of a newspaper for not speaking immediately?” he wrote. “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 added that he and his team are working “to get to the bottom of these incidents and at the same time find a solution that doesn’t harm all those that stand to benefit from this collaboration.”

“I am against discrimination of any kind, but if I make snap judgments, no matter who it’s towards, aren’t I committing the same sin as someone who profiles?” he said. “I am no stranger to being profiled and I truly empathize with anyone that has been put in that position. Hopefully this brings forth a dialogue to effect real change.”

Accuser: ‘I was attacked’

A day earlier, 21-year-old Kayla Phillips made her case public, telling reporters she was forcefully stopped by four plainclothes officers after leaving the high-end retailer with her purchase in February.

She and Trayon Christian, 19, who claimed he also was racially profiled after purchasing a belt at Barneys in April, want damages from the store and the New York Police Department. Christian has already filed a lawsuit.

Phillips said that she had been eyeing an orange suede Celine bag after a friend bought the $2,500 arm candy for his mother.

After showing the cashier her ID, Phillips paid at the register and left the store with the item in a Barneys bag. She walked out of the Madison Avenue store to 59th Street, where the officers stopped her, Phillips said.

“I was attacked,” Phillips said.

The officers – three male and one female – questioned Phillips on her Barneys purchase, she said.

“How did you buy this bag, where did you get the money from?” the female officer asked her, Phillips said.

Phillips showed them her debit card, which the female officer took and showed to her partners, bending and examining it, she said. After verifying Phillips’ purchase and returning her card, the officers let her go and did not apologize, she said.

In a prepared statement, Mark Lee, CEO of Barneys New York, said “no customer should have the unacceptable experience described in recent media reports, and we offer our sincere regret and deepest apologies.”

“We want to reinforce that Barneys New York has zero tolerance for any form of discrimination. Our mission is to ensure that all customers receive the highest-quality service – without exception,” Lee said.

Speaking to the claims by Christian, the company said no employee was involved “in the pursuit of any action with the individual other than the sale.”

In a statement, the New York Police Department said, “We are investigating the allegation.” The department directed CNN to its legal department.

Kareem Vessup, Phillips’ attorney, said an impending lawsuit could seek $5 million in punitive damages, but the exact amount is still undetermined. He said both Barneys and the NYPD should reevaluate their practices on “shop and frisk.”

“There’s a call for change,” Vessup said. “How long had this been going on? Who else may have been affected by this practice?”

Christian, a New York City College of Technology student, entered Barneys on April 29 to buy a Ferragamo belt he had seen rappers wear on television, his attorney, Michael Palillo, told CNN on Wednesday.

Christian bought the belt, left the store and walked a block before two undercover police officers stopped him, Palillo said.

When they saw the designer belt, they asked him how he was able to afford it, Palillo said. The officers allegedly accused him of purchasing the belt with a fraudulent card and said they had received a call from Barneys, according to Palillo.

Christian said he was detained in a holding cell for two hours and interrogated, as police contacted Chase Bank to check his card, Palillo said.

When they confirmed that his card was valid, police released Christian and apologized, Palillo said.

In a similar incident, HBO television actor Robert Brown announced at a news conference Friday that he was racially profiled at Macy’s in New York’s Herald Square in June. Brown alleges that he was stopped by at least three plainclothes officers, accused of using a fraudulent credit card and detained in a holding cell inside the store.

Brown, star of HBO’s “Treme,” has filed a lawsuit against the NYPD seeking yet-to-be-specified damages, he said.

The NYPD did not respond to CNN’s request for comment regarding Brown’s claims.

Macy’s is investigating the allegations, wrote Elina Kazan, vice president of media relations for Macy’s, in an e-mail to CNN, but did note that they “do not comment on matters in litigation.”

CNN’s Greg Botelho and Julia Talanova contributed to this report.