Rapper Jay-Z defended his relationship with Barneys New York today, 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," the rapper, whose real name is Shawn Carter, said in a statement 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," he said.
It was one of Jay-Z's fans, Derick Bowers, who first started a petition on change.org calling on the artist to end his relationship with Barneys.
Bowers writes on the petition site that were it not for Jay-Z's "vast wealth and brand power," Barneys would be treating Jay-Z the same as the two customers who claim they were detained.
"Please join me in calling on Jay-Z to withdraw his support from Barneys New York because of this discrimination," the petition, which has more than 2,400 signers so far, concludes.
Barney's 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.
Jay-J 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 the statement posted on his website.
The negative publicity comes just as Barneys and Jay-Z are poised to introduce a collection of high-end merchandise created especially for Barneys by the rapper.
Items range from a $70 T-shirt (the least expensive item) to a Shawn Carter watch by Hublot (with black alligator straps) priced at $33,900, according to Barneys.
The collection is scheduled to debut Nov. 20 at Barneys stores in Manhattan, Beverly Hills, San Francisco, Chicago and Boston. Carter is also scheduled to design a special window display at the Manhattan store to promote the merchandise. A fraction of the sales from the collection (to be called "A New York Holiday") would go to Jay-Z's charity, which provides scholarships to needy students.
Barneys' 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.