Profiled: It Happened To Me

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Michael A. Hardy

Think about some of the bad things that have happened to other people and generally it is said that “you don’t know how it feels until it happens to you.”  

Well, this evening it happened to me.  I was profiled while shopping at Columbus Circle Wines & Spirts.  The store is located right at the mouth of New York City’s Central Park, a place where thousands of people and tourist pass every day.  It is actually a very quaint shop and generally provides decent service.  Not on this night.

Making things a bit complicated, as General Counsel to the National Action Network, I have been engaged  with other civil rights groups and community leaders in efforts to stop “racial profiling” in some of the nation’s largest retail establishments.  We just recently announced along with the retailers a Customers’ Bill of Rights which retailers commit to zero tolerance of discriminatory profiling by their employees.  There is a part of me which wanted to ignore the incident.  However, that is hard to do when you are engaged in correcting a wrong.

In a nutshell, this incident occurred as I was paying for my purchase.  The store had a sign on each of its transaction registers “ID Required On All Transactions.”  That is an issue of and in itself and I will return to this point.  In my instance, a white gentlemen and I were making purchases at the same time.  I was asked for ID, he was not.   I pointed this out to the employee whose response was “he is a regular customer and we know him.”   I objected and pointed out that the sign said “ID Required On All Transactions.”  Either ID is required on all transactions or its not required on all transactions, it cannot be based upon whether you know someone or not, that leads down a terrible path as it was doing right in that instance.  Not wanting to be treated differently, I took my card back and prepared to leave the store.

I did not leave.  I asked to speak to a manager.  Eventually, a person who indicated he was a manager came over and repeated the statement that they did not require ID from the gentlemen because he was a regular customer and they knew him.  I again pointed out that if you have a sign indicating to your customers’ that ID is required on all transactions, then that must be applicable to all customers’ equally.  Well, it was at that point where the managers’ contempt comes into play.

The posture of the manager was to try to make me feel stupid and be dismissive of my complaint.  Being profiled is illegal, it is also a bad thing and it feels really bad when it is happening.  The manager could have suggested that the store required ID of everyone because it must ensure the purchaser is over 21 years of age; but that didn’t happen.  Moreover, even if he claimed it was for proof of age, then it still would have to be applied equally.  The manager simply insisted that they could treat customers differently with regard to card purchases based upon the customer being a regular or not.  On that count the manager is also wrong.

According to Privacy Rights Clearinghouse and the policies of most credit and debit card companies, like Amex, MasterCard, Visa, etc., a retailer cannot refuse to complete a purchase if the customer refuses to show ID.  All that is required is either entering your pin for the transaction or signing the credit card receipt. Each of the credit card companies maintain these polices on their websites and provide them to merchants in their merchant manuals.

Racial profiling or discriminatory profiling is not good business and it is illegal.  I intend to continue to do all I can to see that it stops, whether it is the large retailer or ColumbusCircle Wines & Spirits.  Merry Christmas!


Michael A. Hardy, Esq. is General Counsel and Executive Vice-President to National Action Network (NAN).  He has been involved in many of this nation’s highest profiled cases involving violations of civil or human rights.  He continues to supervise National Action Network’s crisis unit and hosts a monthly free legal clinic at NAN New York City’s House of Justice 

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