Shopping while Black: Institutionalized racism in Portland

In August 2014, Barneys New York and Macy’s flagship store in Manhattan agreed to pay penalties of $525,000 and $650,000 respectively after the New York attorney general conducted monthslong investigations into repeated racial profiling complaints by shoppers. In the Barneys investigation, the attorney general found that security staff accused an overwhelming number of black and Latino customers of shoplifting and credit card fraud – and that security employees followed minority shoppers around the store even when sales staff had told them they were frequent patrons.

“Statistics show that African Americans are disproportionately subject to traffic stops, school suspensions, and prison sentences,” said attorney Greg Kafoury. “‘Shopping while black’ is simply another reflection of the depth of systematic discrimination.”

In cases that our firm recently handled, jurors awarded Teresa White and her son Deante Strickland, a starting point guard for the Central Catholic basketball team, $67,000 in their claims for false arrest against Walgreens in 2013. Jurors awarded Brenda Moaning $105,000 for her claim of false arrest against H&M in 2014. But many of the same problems that plagued Barneys in New York were at the heart of these recent Multnomah County cases: A lack of written comprehensive policies regarding racial profiling, and a lack of adequate record keeping to ensure shoplifting accusations were properly investigated, both internally and externally.

This week, our law firm, as chronicled in Aimee Green’s article for the Oregonian, filed 6 lawsuits accusing national chains Best Buy, Walgreens, Walmart, Ross Dress for Less, Hollister Company, and the company that owns the movie theater inside Lloyd Center, Cypress Equities Managed Services, L.P. of racially discriminating against and unlawfully detaining African American shoppers.

  • Shaquoya Burns was told she would have to leave a Ross Dress for Less store because she she was believed to be a known thief. A claim the store refused to prove to Ms. Burns or Portland Police.
  • Kervencia Limage was detained by police when leaving a Best Buy because an employee saw a black woman stuff merchandise into her pocket. The store manager told 911, that she believed Limage was part of a “potential ring of thieves.”
  •  Noami Parker was grabbed by a manger as she was leaving Hollister Company. She was let go after she opened her purse to show that she hadn’t stolen anything.
  • Celeste Polk and Alexandria Carter noticed a Walgreens employee watching them. They were told that they were being watched because, there were poor people in the neighborhood. After making their purchases, the pair was told by the manager that police would be called if they returned to the store.
  • Xavier Jeannis was asked to leave the movie theater at Lloyd Center and detained for police. He was questioned about recent cell phone thefts. After reviewing the evidence, Police released Jeannis and advised security, that they were mistaken. Despite this, Jeannis was given a trespass notice for 2 years and asked to leave the mall.
  • Dianne Roberson was detained by employees at Walmart and accused of shoplifting. The allegation was false.

“Discrimination is a terrible thing because you can’t get away from it,” said attorney Greg Kafoury. “You go to school, you get a good job, but you’re always vulnerable to it. Someone can make you feel like dirt.”

Jurors who award large monetary damages can help bring justice to victims of racial discrimination, and also send a loud message to large corporations that institutional racism will not be tolerated. Check back in the coming months to see updates on where these lawsuits end up.

Read more:

The Oregonian — Aimee Green (02/24/2015)
KGW — Sara Roth (02/24/2015)
KOIN — Kohr Harlan (02/23/2015)