The president of Nordstrom Rack is offering a face-to-face apology to three African American teenagers after they were falsely accused of stealing from a store in Missouri.
Dirone Taylor, Mekhi Lee and Eric Rogers II said they were shopping on Thursday at a Nordstrom Rack in Brentwood, near St. Louis, when store employees called the police on them and accused them of shoplifting. The police showed up but determined there was no crime.
Nordstrom Rack president Geevy Thomas flew to St. Louis and was planning to meet with the teenagers and their families on Tuesday, the teens told CNN.
“I just want to explain to him the situation,” said Taylor, who graduates from De Smet Jesuit High School in St. Louis on May 20. “I don’t want it to happen to anyone else. I want to see what repercussions will happen.”
Adolphus Pruitt, president of the St. Louis chapter of the NAACP, said in a statement that the three students, Taylor, Lee, and Rogers, “were guilty of nothing but shopping while being black.”
“These are good kids,” Pruitt told CNN. “The most remarkable thing was, when I asked them, what do you want [from Nordstrom Rack], they said, make sure no other black kids and their families have to go through the same thing.”
Rogers, who graduates May 22 from East St. Louis Senior High School, told CNN that he and his friends are used to being watched in stores, but this time was different.
“I felt like I was unequal,” Rogers said. “By them calling the police, with everything going on, anything we could have done could have affected us, and could have drastically affected our lives. In a way, I was scared. But I couldn’t show it.”
Taylor and Rogers were shopping for shirts for prom.
The third student, Lee, a freshman at Alabama A&M, said he felt “overwhelmed, embarrassed and humiliated.”
Chief Joseph Spiess of the Brentwood Police Department spoke to CNN and credited the three responding officers for their patience.
“They [the teens] were a bit confrontational with the officers initially, and then the officers explained why they were there,” said Spiess.
He said the officers had the dispatcher re-broadcast the call for them “so that the teens could hear the report, which really helped. They got it.”
“The success story here on our end — [was that] the officers really let these kids talk, the officers figured out they weren’t stealing, they had receipts for what they had,” said Spiess. “Police then talked to the Nordstrom Rack people and explained there was no crime.”
The store apologized to the teens.
“We did not handle this situation well and we apologized to these young men and their families,” Nordstrom Rack said in a statement to CNN affiliate KMOV. “We want all customers to feel welcome when they shop with us and we do not tolerate discrimination of any kind.”
Nordstrom Rack is a subsidiary of Nordstrom.
This is the latest racially charged incident to involve a major company in 2018. Last month, two black men were arrested at a Starbucks in Philadelphia for trespassing after they sat in a store without buying anything. Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson later met with the men and apologized, according to the company. He also apologized publicly, calling the incident “reprehensible.”
Starbucks is planning to close 8,000 stores on May 29 for racial bias training.