Nordstrom Rack management were forced to apologize to three young black men after they were falsely accused of stealing from a Brentwood, Missouri, store and police were called on them.
According to STL Today, 19-year-old Mekhi Lee, a DeSmet Jesuit High School graduate who is now a freshman at Alabama A&M University, was with his friends, De Smet senior Dirone Taylor and East St. Louis Senior High School senior Eric Rogers II, shopping for prom clothes at Nordstrom Rack on Thursday. All three of the teenagers are black.
Lee said he and his friends noticed they were being closely watched and followed by the store employees. Lee said they moved to a “farther part of the store” but were still followed.
“I was nervous the whole time. Every time we move, they move. When we looked up, they looked up. I felt nervous, and like I couldn’t be there,” Lee said.
Lee called his mother, Twyla Lee, to let her know what was going on and she urged him to talk with the manager. The manager never came out to talk to them. The already tense situation became worse when an elderly woman, who was also shopping, called one of the teens a “punk” and allegedly asked them, “Are your parents proud of you for what you do?”
“When she called us a punk, and she didn’t have anything to do with the situation, everyone in the store is against us looking at us crazy, and we didn’t do anything. I was totally embarrassed, and we’re the only ones defending ourselves against everyone in the store,” Lee said.
As they were leaving the store, Brentwood police were pulling into the parking lot. The officers told the three teens that police had received a call about three black men shoplifting. The men showed the police the items they had bought and a store receipt. According to CBS News, they said they decided to buy something from the store to prove a point.
“We made the purchase to show them that we’re equal and we didn’t have to steal anything,” Rogers said.
All three teenagers and Lee’s mother say they are pleased with how the police handled the situation without escalating it and causing unnecessary problems.
“The police were actually good. They understood where we were coming from and they showed us that they were just doing their job,” Rogers said.
Lee added, “The police let us tell our story. The police did their job. They also read us the police report where Nordstrom Rack said we had stolen several items.”
Twyla Lee said, “It makes me really furious because I pour so much into my son and I’ve raised him to do the right thing. I’m a single mother raising an African-American male child, and I fear this, and now this fear has become reality … I’m heartbroken they had to go through that humiliation, but I’m so happy it went in a positive way, and police listened to their side of the story.”
Nordstrom Rack management apologized and released the following statement: “We didn’t handle this situation well, and we apologized to these young men and their families. We’re enhancing our internal practices and trainings to help ensure this doesn’t happen again. We want all customers to feel welcome when they shop with us, and we don’t tolerate discrimination of any kind.”
The president of Nordstrom Rack Geevy Thomas has contacted the families of the teens and asked to meet with them. He is expected to fly to St. Louis to personally apologize to the three teens. Adolphus Pruitt, St. Louis NAACP president, says he will also meet with the three teens and their families about the unfortunate incident. Pruitt also wants to work with Thomas to make sure their meeting is “strategic” and will “prevent incidents like this from happening in the future.”
– Blair Halliday