The president of Nordstrom Rack, Geevy Thomas, flew down to St. Louis, Missouri this week to offer a face-to-face apology to three Black teens who were wrongly accused by store employees of shoplifting, KMOV reported Monday evening.
“We did not handle this situation well and we apologized to these young men and their families,” a company spokesperson said in a statement. “We want all customers to feel welcome when they shop with us and we do not tolerate discrimination of any kind.”
Local NAACP leaders say they’ve talked to Thomas as well, and plan to work with him on what to do with the employees moving forward, according to CBS News.
“The discussion has to have some sustenance, it needs to be strategic, and it needs to have some measurable outcome,” Adolphus Pruitt, president of the St. Louis NAACP chapter, told the outlet.
The controversy began on Thursday last week, after Mekhi Lee, Dirone Taylor, and Eric Rogers II said they noticed several store employees following them around the Brentwood Square Nordstrom Rack, where they were shopping for prom clothes. Although the teens ended up making a purchase, they say they were stopped outside the store anyway by several Brentwood Police officers, who told them the store employees had accused them of theft.
“Being a young, Black male, you experience certain things — you experience being watched. But no one ever takes it to the next level, as much as they did,” Taylor told KMOV.
Police conducted an on-the-spot investigation, the three teens said, and later let them go without charges. Rogers said the officers appeared to be sympathetic to their version of events.
“The police were actually good,” he said. “They understood where we were coming from and they showed us that they were just doing their job.”
The three teens said they were also confronted inside the store earlier that day by another customer who called them “punks” and asked if their parents were “proud of [them] for what you do.” Managers stepped in after an altercation broke out between the customer and teens, who said they were defending themselves.
“I knew it was coming, but at the same time I was feeling embarrassed, agitated, mixed emotions with the whole situation,” said Taylor, “because I know we didn’t deserve it.”
The incident is the latest in a recent slew of controversies involving Black civilians subjected to racist profiling. Just last month, two Black men were arrested inside a Philadelphia Starbucks location, after a white store manager called the cops on them, claiming they were loitering. The two men, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, told officers they were simply waiting for a business associate to show up for a meeting, but were placed in handcuffs and taken away, without being read their rights. Nelson and Robinson later settled with the city for $1. In exchange, the city pledged $200,000 to fund a high school program for students looking to become entrepreneurs.
In both instances, top executives acted swiftly to stem the publicity fallout. After the Starbucks incident on April 12, for instance, it took only three days before CEO Kevin Johnson announced he would meet Nelson and Robinson to apologize in-person. Prior to that, the company had tweeted an apology, saying it “clearly had more work to do,” and issued a separate letter signed by Johnson, in which the CEO said the company would be reviewing the incident and overhauling its business practices.
Starbucks eventually settled with the two men on May 2, issuing a statement that highlighted both the company’s, as well as Nelson and Robinson’s, next moves.
“The agreement…includes a confidential financial settlement as well as a commitment to continued listening and dialogue between the parties as a means toward developing specific actions and opportunities,” the company wrote. “…And as part of the agreement, Robinson and Nelson will have an opportunity to provide input based on their personal experience to former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder as part of the company’s long-term diversity and equity efforts.”
Additionally, Starbucks says it has offered Robinson and Nelson the opportunity to complete their bachelor’s degrees through the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, “a first of a kind partnership with Arizona State University otherwise available to Starbucks partners to earn their bachelor’s degree with full tuition coverage.”
Starbucks stores across the United States will close for part of the day on May 29 to undergo mandatory racial bias training, as part of its business practice overhaul.
Nordstrom Rack executives have not yet specified whether they will implement similar training or review the company’s business practices.