Williamsburg vintage boutique becomes battleground over racial profiling
Bedford Avenue’s Amarcord draws pickets and likely boycott after employees accuse mother, daughter of theft
More than 50 people protested in front of a vintage boutique shop in Williamsburg on Friday night, one week after a black customer and her daughter were allegedly racially profiled, wrongly accused of shoplifting, chased down the street and handcuffed before police realized they were guilty of no crime.
Chanting “Racial profiling has got to go!” and “White lies cost Black lives!” in front of Amarcord on Bedford Avenue, protesters promised a boycott of the shop, which closed in anticipation of the protest by supporters of Nancy Bedard and her daughter, Isabelle.
One week earlier, Bedard and her daughter had been shopping when one of the store employees accused them of shoplifting.
“They told me they had me on video and that it showed me taking items,” said Bedard. “I told them, ‘No, you’re making that up. I’m an attorney. I don’t have any money problems. I don’t need to steal. Neither does my daughter!’ But they kept right on. So I finally said, ‘Thank you very much.’ And that’s when we left. But this one woman kept following us.”
It is unclear what happened next, but several minutes later, an NYPD squad car arrived — with the employee in the back seat Bedard claimed — pointing out Bedard and her daughter to cops.
The women were cuffed — though they were released after police searched their bags and did not discover any stolen items. The daughter’s arms were bruised from the handcuffs, and she was treated at Woodhull Hospital.
“This is dangerous to people of color,” Bedard said. “Calling down the police on us for no reason like that. That is why people get hurt.”
She claimed the employee used a racial epithet, but she did not say what it was. She dismissed the store’s attempt at an apology, which was posted on the front door of the shop.
“They tried to say that there was some sort of ‘misunderstanding’!” Bedard said. “But what kind of ‘misunderstanding’ has an employee chasing you down the street calling you ‘thief’ and all sorts of things?”
In a response posted on the shop’s website, the owners Patti Bordoni and Marco Liotta indeed said there was a “misunderstanding.”
“One of our employees politely approached two patrons to clarify a situation, which was immediately countered with the accusation that our intentions were racially motivated,” the explanation states. “Shocked, our employee pursued them outside in an attempt to sort things out. At this point, one of the patrons threatened our employee’s safety, humiliated her and berated her race, class, and physical appearance. The NYPD were called at the suggestion of these patrons, as well as our employees who hoped they could help to diffuse the issue. The patrons were uncooperative. What happened after that was beyond our control.
“Since then, the patrons have proceeded to defame our company,” the statement continued. “It is devastating to see our small company and our names smeared and boycotted, especially when the incident did not happen the way it has been portrayed.”
The company also said it posted an apology on Bedard’s husband’s Facebook page, but he deleted it.
It stated: “We could not be more sorry or regretful for the encounter that happened at our store, for the incidents that ensued after, and for the way the police treated your beautiful wife and daughter. This is not the way Amarcord does business, and this does not reflect the ethos of our company as a whole or us as people. … We do not tolerate discrimination of any kind, whatsoever. In fact, we condemn it. We have been trying to get in touch in other ways, but we have been unsuccessful. We want to make amends, make things right, and make it up to them.”
The husband, Philip Sturges, was still steamed on Friday night.
“My wife called me from the hospital,” he said. “They were both so upset. I haven’t the slightest doubt that they were singled out as women of color.”
It is unclear what will happen next. Bedard and Sturges are calling for a boycott, but a lawyer for the store says it may pursue its own case against Bedard.
“Clearly there is a defamation case here,” the lawyer Daniel Kron told Gothamist.
It may not come to that, given the tone of the store’s apology message: “If you know our team, our store, and us personally, you know we are inclusive, progressive, hard working, decent human beings, who actually stand against discrimination. We do not, and have never tolerated discriminatory behavior of any kind.”
The NYPD told Gothamist it had launched an investigation of the incident and the police response.