10/25/2013 09:05 pm ET Updated Dec 25, 2013

An Open Letter to Jay-Z: One Thing You Could Say About Barneys That Might Matter


It's unfortunate but, sooner or later, Jay-Z, you're going to have to say something.

Nobody should blame you for cutting a promotional deal -- launching an exclusive holiday collection -- with Barneys just before a racial profiling scandal exploded at the luxury Manhattan department store. As one of your most famous songs reminds us, you're not a mind-reader.

But they will blame you. Timing is everything and the seeming hypocrisy of a rapper who's rhymed about racial profiling and police misconduct now promoting a $33,000 watch at the infamous department store is too juicy of a headline to ignore.

And, to be fair, it's been several days now since the news broke that Trayon Christian, a 19-year-old engineering student from Queens, is suing Barneys and the NYPD for racial discrimination after purchasing a $349 Ferragamo belt from the store. He was stopped just after exiting, handcuffed and detained in a jail cell until the police ran out of reasons to keep holding him.

It's been several days, too, since the follow-up story of Kayla Phillips, a 21-year-old nursing student, who was swarmed by undercover cops after buying a designer handbag at the same store back in February. She too is planning to sue Barneys and the police.

Barneys itself has gone into crisis management mode, issuing a statement acknowledging that the treatment of the two shoppers was unacceptable and hiring a civil rights attorney to lead a review of its fairness and equality practices.

But still no words from you, Jay-Z -- one of the most prolific wordsmiths of a generation.

To be honest with you, I couldn't care less whether you keep Barneys' money. It won't change a reality of more than 700,000 people -- mostly Black and Latino -- stopped and frisked by the NYPD in a single year. It won't change the reality that our culture encourages the criminalization of communities of color. But I do believe that you, along with the rest of Black America, deserve to know more about what's happening outside those department store windows -- so many unanswered questions remain.

We should know more about the other 50 people arrested near the retail outlet -- who they are, the racial makeup of the group. Whether they were eventually charged or let go? And what was Barneys' role, if any, in those arrests?

That's why ColorOfChange members are calling on NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly to conduct a full investigation into the arrests. Others are speaking out as well. Rev. Sharpton and the National Action Network have demanded a meeting with Barneys' executives and a petition, urging you to reconsider your contract has already made headlines.

Should you break your silence, perhaps you could speak out and join us in holding the NYPD accountable too.

It may be just a 45-minute subway ride from Brooklyn to the Barneys flagship on the Upper East Side, but you of all people know just how long that journey really feels. Throughout your career, you have been the voice of a generation of Black men who daily endure profiling and harassment from police officers.

Why stop talking now?

Rashad Robinson is executive director of ColorOfChange -- the nation's largest online civil rights organization. Sign the online petition demanding an NYPD investigation into the arrests here.