No Mercy for Macy's

To ascribe racist motives to Macy's officials is a leap in logic.


ingfbruno / Wikimedia Commons

The quest for racial harmony extends beyond the streets of Ferguson, Missouri. It extends to the unlikeliest of places, such as the pantyhose section at Macy's.

Last month, Macy's agreed to pay $650,000 in response to more than a dozen complaints that it had engaged in racial profiling and false detentions at its flagship store in Manhattan's Herald Square. After an 18-month investigation, New York state officials concluded that Macy's "detained minorities for allegedly shoplifting at significantly higher rates than whites."

New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said, "It is absolutely unacceptable—and it's illegal—for anyone in New York to be treated like a criminal simply because of the color of their skin." It is also unacceptable to insinuate that a company like Macy's treats minorities like criminals "simply" because of their skin color.

According to the terms of the agreement, Macy's must appoint an expert on racial profiling, post in its store a customers' bill of rights explicitly prohibiting racial profiling, train its employees on "anti-profiling," and pay $650,000, not to the alleged victims but to the state of New York. These steps, Schneiderman said, "will help ensure that no one is unfairly singled out as a suspected criminal when they shop in New York."

No, they won't. Part of being a suspected criminal is that people don't know if you are a criminal. Shoplifters don't wear signs saying "I Plan on Stealing Today." Catching them is a guessing game; and, inevitably, some of the guesses will be incorrect. Security officials, whose job is to be suspicious, are bound to make mistakes. The question is whether their mistakes are errors in judgment or malicious in intent.

Quite a few people suspect the latter. Assemblyman Walter T. Mosley (D-Brooklyn) said, "When they engage in retail profiling, they are engaging in racism." A lawsuit filed by an African-American couple last year accused Macy's of "not wishing to sell to African-Americans because of their color," which is highly improbable. Does anyone really think that Macy's does not want to sell to African-Americans? That it would rather harass them than make money off them?

To ascribe racist motives to Macy's officials is a leap in logic, uncorroborated by the known facts. For one thing, Macy's had grounds to be concerned about theft. According to crime statistics from the NYPD, grand larceny rose 31.6 percent from 2011 to 2013 in the precinct of Macy's Manhattan store. In 2002, that store lost $15 million to theft.

Did this necessitate racial profiling? Not necessarily. For its part, Macy's claims that its "policies strictly prohibit any form of discrimination or racial profiling." Even if it did engage in racial profiling, we do not know whether race was the sole factor in the apprehension of suspects, although that is unlikely: elderly black women tend to arouse less suspicion than do young white males.

And yet there is the impression, fostered by Schneiderman, that Macy's loves violating the civil rights of minorities. To target individuals "simply" because of their race is not only morally reprehensible; it is also a bad business practice. Successful businesses please their customers. They do not detain and handcuff them willy-nilly.

There are racists in business, but there are few racist businesses. Donald Sterling may have had nasty thoughts about African-Americans, but he did not buy the Los Angeles Clippers in order to persecute them. In the end, profits trump prejudices.

It's hard to defend racial profiling, but it's just as hard to eradicate it, especially in the private sphere. None other than Jesse Jackson once admitted to feeling "relieved" when seeing a white person on an unfriendly street.

Some people think such atavistic thoughts can be eliminated by the stroke of a legislative pen. When running for president in 2000, former Sen. Bill Bradley promised to "eliminate racial profiling at the federal level." Although Bradley has long since retired, his cause has many champions. Among them is Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.), sponsor of the End Racial Profiling Act of 2013, which the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination endorsed just the other day.

As far as Macy's is concerned, the goal should be to reduce wrongful detentions altogether, both in quantity and in severity, not to achieve racial equilibrium by detaining at equal rates persons of all races. If Macy's fails—if it continues to detain innocent people—the least it can do is compensate its victims: say, with gift certificates for pantyhose.


NEXT: Emma Watson Photo Leak Was a Prank Dressed Up as Viral Marketing Dressed Up as 4Chan

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said, “It is absolutely unacceptable?and it’s illegal?for anyone in New York to be treated like a criminal simply because of the color of their skin.”

    Stop and frisk, though, that’s different, amirite?

    1. Shit. This is what I get for answering an email before commenting.

  2. Just so’s I’m clear on the AG’s position: Stop and frisk based on racial profiling is necessary for the safety of NYPD officers, but horrible when done by Macy’s. Got it.

    1. Fuck you, citizen.

  3. BUT I SUPPOSE STOP AND FRISK IS JUST FINE AND DANDY. (I can’t believe no one else made that connection.)

    1. Well, of course, Fisty, that’s because S&R is being done by a government agency controlled by Schneiderman’s political allies, and Macy’s is a filthy capitalist establishment.

  4. Do we have the raw data on the breakdown of accused and caught shoplifters? If they have a false accusation rate of say, 10%, but it’s 10% across the board, that’s different from a false accusation rate of 10%, where the rate of false accusations is 1% for white suspects, and 19-30% for others.

    I want the raw data!

    1. Forget it UCS, its grievancetown.

    2. That was my first thought on hitting this story. It took me one paragraph to wonder how many of the accused were actually shoplifting yet these folk don’t seem to have even broached that question. I suspect asking relevant questions might interfere with their conclusions.

  5. Shoplifters don’t wear signs saying “I Plan on Stealing Today.”

    They don’t? Holy shit! The ‘veil of silence’ surrounding La Cosa Nostra has been breached! Mann sleeps with the fishes tonight!

    1. Their signs read ‘Just Browsing’

      1. Everyone knows the best way to stop security is to buy something small.

  6. Macy’s must appoint an expert on racial profiling

    No third-world shakedown is complete without forcing the target business to appoint the retarded niece of local politician to a makework position.

    1. Were I Macy’s, I’d hire David Duke as a fuck you to the AG. “Hey, who knows more about racist profiling than the KKK?”

    2. Macy’s must appoint an expert on racial profiling

      Also, I love how PC-language treats this as a normal-sounding position. “Expert on Racial Profiling” sounds like something that Rudolf H?ss would put on his resum

      1. You mean there aren’t children growing up right now dreaming of someday becoming experts on racial profiling?

        Q: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

        A: “I want to be a grievance monger!”


    Four African-American young men sit huddled around a kitchen table as G-DOGG’S MOTHER cooks eggs and bacon at the stove. G-DOGG enters the room from the side as the four men look up. Slim Thug’s “Like a Boss” plays in the background.


    ‘Sup, niggaz?


    You know how we do, nigga.

    LIL’ RED

    Shit, we hustle every day. Mothafucka here just talkin ’bout hittin’ up some Macy’s an’ shit.


    Hells yeah. A niggas gots to get his bed and bath on. You ignorant, lizard-skin ass muthafuckaz probably don’ know how much duvets go for on the streets. You see this ring? Just one muthafuckin’ day slingin’ Lenox Blossom on the corner. Jus’ one muthafuckin day, my niggaz.


    Yeah? What color?


    Mauve, bitch.


    Don’t be disrespectin’ women up in here, Greg or I’ll break my foot off in yo’ ass. Take yo’ hooligans outside before I decide to crack yo’ head with this non-stick Macy’s cookware. Don’t test me; I brought yo’ ass in this world and I can still take it out.

    Yes, momma.

  8. Dude that makes no sense at all man.


  9. my friend’s sister makes $60 hourly on the internet . She has been out of work for 6 months but last month her pay check was $19915 just working on the internet for a few hours. you can try this out………….


    1. What a loser. We have other posters whose friends sisters make $82 per hour on the internet.

      1. Those are obviously the top shelf web cam whores.

  10. The fine seems incredibly unreasonable.

    But, you really piss me off with this- “Catching them is a guessing game; and, inevitably, some of the guesses will be incorrect. “

    Fuck you if you think security has the right to be ‘guessing’ about anyone shoplifting and then directly approaching the shopper about their ‘guess’.

    Fuck you to several powers. I’d never return to a store with my rather well-off wallet had some idjit been sitting behind some camera ‘guessing’ that maybe I shoplifted something because I shifted my fucking pants because I tend to wear them a bit tight.

    Christ, this dude pisses me off. Who the fuck is Windsor Mann?

    1. It actually isn’t a guessing game. Shoplifters evince certain behaviors

      And if you are falsely accused of shoplifting, or feel such an accusation is likely, you can simply go to another store. The state of NY does not need to collect a check in this scenario.

      1. The only behavior a shoplifter evinces is taking stuff without paying for it.

        Everything else is a guessing game.

        I’ve put small items in my coat pocket at the store because it was convenient to hold it there, but that didn’t mean I planned on taking them without paying.

        Guess wrong, you get sued.

        1. You seriously do this? I’m not trying to be a jerk it’s just I would never consider putting stuff I hadn’t paid for in anything other than a basket or a cart.

          Although maybe they don’t have those in department stores. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been in one…

    2. As someone who has done retail, allow me to reciprocate. I have been on the recieving end of an awful lot of outrage by people who were doing EXACTLY what scammers or shoplifters would do.

      I can understand not signing your credit cards. It’s dumb, but I can understand. Saying you’ll sing it in front of me is a normal, if non-functional reaction. Yelling at me for telling you that signing the card in fron of me proves nothing makes me mad. It markes you as an imbecile and probable thef.

      Walking around with amhuge open bag comtaining a large unsealed box is classic shoplifter behavior (the box will be lined with foil). Yelling at me for wanting you to leave the bag at the counter?

      Get. The. Fuck. Out.

      And, please, don’t come back.

  11. My spouse was a manager at a department store for several years. Store security noticed a pattern (with the help of security cameras) for a while. Large women wearing dresses and wide brimmed hats would come in to the store with 2 or 3 children. The hat was to help hide her face from the security cameras, the children were there for interference/distraction, and the dress (baggy, with plenty of excess fabric) was for hiding merchandise. Sometimes there would be two women in the group, with only one doing the shoplifting.

    These women and children happened to be black. Perhaps store security was missing the large white women wearing hats using the same shoplifting techniques. Don’t know. What I do know is that most of shoplifting “groups” as I described that were caught in SW Florida happened to be black. My spouse even saw a black person run out of the store with an armload of clothes, then jump in to a van waiting by the door — and successfully got away.

    Of course black people are no more or less likely to shoplift than whites, but staff at Macy’s, etc. cannot help but react to patterns that get repeated, like what occurred at the store where my spouse worked.

    1. I suppose they’d hoisted the hats previously.

      “Can we steal battery?”

    2. Hutterite women do this exact same thing, less the hats. A friend of mine worked at a Big R in college, and they frequently had issues with Hutterite women stealing things.
      They caught one gal with a full set of cast-iron cookware tied up in her skirts. They only even caught her because she was clanging around, but I guess she had a bunch of ties/pockets sewn into the underside of her skirt.

      1. Hutterites?!? Hutterites?!?!?

        As in devout German Anabaptists? The ones persecuted for refusing to serve in the Army? Those Hutterites?

        Wow! Mind blown!

        1. They have a remarkable tendency to behave like raccoons.

          1. Do they knock over trash cans too?

    3. I also noticed patterns in my experience working retail a few years back. I was once a supervisor at a boutique toy store and, for us, it wasn’t race so much as class, attire, and contextual clues. Specifically, obnoxious trailer trash women who tried to buy $300+ worth of random toys with a sketchy-looking check and a temporary paper driver’s license on a sunday evening. That exact scenario happened several times on my watch.

    4. “Of course black people are no more or less likely to shoplift than whites”

      That’s a strong statement. Any evidence for it? It looks like a reflexive PC ass-cover.

      1. Pointing out inconvenient facts of reality is racist.

      2. Yeah, a bit reflexive. Just want to be nice to all the brothers and sisters.

        Still, the basic statement is true. On the other hand, large black women wearing baggy dresses, wide brimmed hats, and bringing two or three kids with them to department stores are more likely to shoplift. Skinny, bare-headed blacks wearing slim fitted clothes are less likely to shoplift, especially if shopping alone.

    5. I live in an area of Hutterite colonies. Their women are always watched in retail stores for that very reason, they all wear long skirt, hats and steal everything ‘forbidden’ by their religion.

  12. What they need is a bunch of white shills to be “detained” so statistically they can “prove they weren’t discriminating”.

    1. Maybe they could hire some of those climate protestors from yesterday who wanted to get arrested. Offer them an opportunity to build street cred with their fellow commies. Of course none of them would be willing to work for an evul kkkapitalist kkkoporashun like Macy’s, so maybe not.

  13. The linked report doesn’t include anything about the percentage of false positives and correct positives. (I.e., what percentage of each group was actually concluded to be shoplifting).

    That doesn’t end the analysis (for example, the filter used to determing whether a given detainee was shoplifting could itself be biased), but you would think it would be informative, and it’s an interesting statistics problem. Unleash Nate Silver!

    1. They came, they concluded, they conquered and made lots of money. Why would they bother with facts that might interfere with that process?

  14. “the least it can do is compensate its victims: say, with gift certificates for pantyhose.”

    Pantyhose would be the worst possible thing to offer. Apparently pantyhose come in a color called ‘nude’ that is considerably lighter than the nude skin of most women of color. Seriously, this is an issue being addressed by whomever addresses these “problems”.

  15. I feel like any place such as macys does this. So for it just to come up against macy’s I actually find offensive and they should be going after the other stores as well.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.