Rapper Jay-Z defended his relationship with Barneys New York today, after facing increasing pressure to break ties with the luxury department store over accusations of racially profiling and detaining two black customers.
"The negligent, erroneous reports and attacks on my character, intentions, and the spirit of this collaboration have forced me into a statement I didn't want to make without the full facts," the rapper, whose real name is Shawn Carter, said in a statement on his website.
"Making a decision prematurely to pull out of this project, wouldn't hurt Barneys or Shawn Carter, but all the people that stand a chance at higher education," he said.
It was one of Jay-Z's fans, Derick Bowers, who first started a petition on change.org calling on the artist to end his relationship with Barneys.
Bowers writes on the petition site that were it not for Jay-Z's "vast wealth and brand power," Barneys would be treating Jay-Z the same as the two customers who claim they were detained.
"Please join me in calling on Jay-Z to withdraw his support from Barneys New York because of this discrimination," the petition, which has more than 2,400 signers so far, concludes.
Barney's CEO, in a statement, says the store has reached out to New York City community leaders to begin a dialog on the issue. The Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network said it plans to meet with store management and to picket the store, if its alleged profiling does not stop.
Jay-J said he was "no stranger to being profiled" and empathized with those that had been.
"Hopefully this brings forth a dialogue to effect real change," he said in the statement posted on his website.
The negative publicity comes just as Barneys and Jay-Z are poised to introduce a collection of high-end merchandise created especially for Barneys by the rapper.
Items range from a $70 T-shirt (the least expensive item) to a Shawn Carter watch by Hublot (with black alligator straps) priced at $33,900, according to Barneys.
The collection is scheduled to debut Nov. 20 at Barneys stores in Manhattan, Beverly Hills, San Francisco, Chicago and Boston. Carter is also scheduled to design a special window display at the Manhattan store to promote the merchandise. A fraction of the sales from the collection (to be called "A New York Holiday") would go to Jay-Z's charity, which provides scholarships to needy students.
Barneys' troubles began when Tayon Christian of Queens, N.Y., filed suit Oct. 11, accusing the store of profiling. Days later, another customer, Kayla Phillips, of Brooklyn, N.Y., filed notice she also intends to sue.
Christian, in his complaint, says his incident took place around 3 p.m. on April 29 after he had bought a Ferragamo belt at Barney's flagship Madison Avenue store, paying with his debit/credit card.
He left with his purchase. but a few blocks away he was stopped, he says in his complaint, by undercover New York City police officers who accused him of having made a fraudulent purchase with an unauthorized card.
He was told, according to the complaint, that his identification was false and that he could not have afforded such an expensive a purchase.
Christian was cuffed, arrested, and held in a cell at the NYPD's 19th Precinct before being released some two hours later. No criminal charges were filed against him. His complaint says he was forced to endure scorn and ridicule by virtue of his public arrest.
He is suing for unspecified damages for violation of his civil rights.
Barneys, in a statement this week, said that while the store ordinarily does not comment on pending litigation, it was making an exception in this case.
"After carefully reviewing the incident of last April, it is clear that no employee of Barneys New York was involved in the pursuit of any action with the individual other than the sale," the statement said. "Barney's New York has zero tolerance for any form of discrimination and we stand by our long history in support of all human rights. We are very sorry that any customer of our store would have this experience."
An NYPD spokesman told ABC News that the department was investigating the incident, including whether the officers had acted on their own initiative or in response to a request from Barneys.
Barneys CEO Mark Lee, in a later statement, said the store was conducting a thorough review of its practices, "to ensure that they reflect our continued commitment to fairness and equality."
He said the store had retained civil rights expert Michael Yaki, who serves on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, to assist the store in its review.
"Mr. Yaki will be provided with unrestricted access to all aspect of our store operations," Lee said.
Yaki, in a statement released Friday by Barneys, confirmed he had been retained by the store.
The second incident allegedly occurred in February after Kayla Phillips of Brooklyn, 21, had purchased a $2,500 Celine handbag, according to the New York Daily News. The News reported that she, like Christian, was detained and questioned. She did not come forth with her accusation until this week.
Phiillips has not filed suit, but she has filed notice of her intention to sue. Barneys, asked about Phillips' accusations, directed ABC News to the store's previous two statements.