As you probably know if you’ve been paying attention to the news recently, Trayon Christian is a 19 year old Black college student who is suing the NYPD and Barney’s–one of NYC’s luxury department stores–for wrongful arrest after he purchased a $350 Ferragamo belt in the store using a debit card. Christian was stopped by police as he tried to exit the store after (he alleges) a Barney’s sales clerk alerted them, believing the transaction was fraudulent. Christian alleges that even after he showed the police his ID, his debit card and his receipt, he was told that his ID was false and that he could not afford to make such a purchase. He was arrested and detained at a local precinct, then released once his bank confirmed that the card was his. He promptly went back to Barney’s, returned the belt, and vowed never to shop there again. He is suing for unspecified damages. “His only crime was being a young black man,” his attorney, Michael Palillo.
We shudder when we hear this story, knowing that on any given day our sons could have Trayon’s experience. We worry that they will be viewed with suspicion by sales clerks and security guards, that they will not be buzzed into a locked store which they want to enter (which has been known to happen in NYC), and we especially worry that they will be wrongfully arrested. If we accept the facts as Trayon presents them (and no one disputes that he was arrested and released once his id and card checked out) we are outraged for Trayon, and want Barney’s and/or the NYPD to pay for their mistake. We want to make an example of them, to make them answer for the outrage we feel every time a store assumes a young black man can’t afford his purchase or is trying to steal something. We shudder. But what do we tell our sons about Trayon Christian?
We tell them that Trayon Christian is setting a good example of how to handle yourself in this difficult and frightening situation. First, from all reports, he cooperated with the officers, produced his receipt, id and card, and did not resist when the officers insisted on arresting him. We have to tell our boys to stay calm in these situations, and to check their instincts to be angry, uncooperative, indignant or rude to the police officers, regardless of how senseless or irrational they feel the police are behaving. It is critical that they understand this.
Second, he returned the belt after his ordeal and vowed never to shop at Barney’s again. He understood that no material object, no matter how much he originally wanted it, was worth the indignities he suffered. This was an impressively mature action on his part, and one we must emphasize when talking about his story.
Finally, he pursued legal action to right the wrong. If he is successful with his claim, he is likely to be well compensated for the mistakes Barney’s and/or the NYPD made. If the award is large enough, the hope is that other stores and police departments will be more careful with their assumptions and more mindful of their actions. Trayon Christian has bravely gone public with his story, is dealing with whatever fallout and scrutiny his story brings, and is looking to the courts for a proper resolution.
Let us give our sons and daughters the lessons of Trayon Christian’s experience. Then let us hope that they never have to use them.