Shoed From Dillard's

Three young African Americans say a security guard singled them out, then ran them off

"He said, 'Why don't all y'all get out?' I said, 'You know what? Your attitude stinks. There's plenty of other people here, but you just pick us out and harass us, and that's wrong.'

"He said, 'You get out, or I'll show you how I put people out.' I asked him his name and he said, 'You keep talking to me and I'll give you my name on some paperwork.'"

"It was clearly a black-white issue," Marsell Ector says.
Jim Benson, the manager of Dillard's Fiesta Mall location, referred questions to Bob Baker of Dillard's divisional headquarters at Metrocenter.

Although the Ectors have not lodged a formal complaint against Dillard's, Baker says two employees of the Fiesta Mall store wrote reports indicating that the security guard's actions were "fully justified." Baker would not name those employees or allow them or the security guard to be interviewed by New Times. He also refused to release their reports on the incident or to characterize what the Ectors had done to justify the security guard's actions.

Baker says the company has no policy of singling out anyone by race.

This isn't the first time Dillard's has faced a complaint of racial discrimination in the Valley.

In 1993, New Times detailed incidents at Dillard's locations at Park Central and Paradise Valley malls involving young African Americans. One, a 17-year-old, was paraded around in handcuffs while being falsely accused of passing a counterfeit $100 bill. In a separate incident, three South Mountain High School students were followed around the store for 30 to 40 minutes while they did nothing more than shop.

Oscar Tillman, president of the Arizona chapter of NAACP, says the group has not taken any legal action against Dillard's.

"The only thing we've had is complaints, specifically about the Paradise Valley store," he says. "People tell us that from the moment they walk in until they leave the store, they are tailed. It's to the point that they will not go there again."

When the NAACP receives complaints, Tillman says, the group often conducts its own tests, but "we have not had a chance to do that" with Dillard's. However, he adds, "We have not put this one to rest."

The chain has not fared well in the eyes of national NAACP officials. Linda Haithcox of the NAACP's economic development office in Baltimore, Maryland, says Dillard's signed an agreement with the organization in 1986, pledging to improve relations with minorities within and outside the company. The "fair-share" agreement was similar to one signed by Denny's restaurants and other companies with which the NAACP has found fault.

But Haithcox says Dillard's was dropped from the 15-year-old fair-share program list in late 1994, "primarily because of their lack of commitment to the agreement." The NAACP keeps terms of such agreements confidential, but the terms reportedly included pledges that the company would hire and promote more minorities, increase business with minority-owned companies and include more minorities in its advertising.

Still, the NAACP continues to receive complaints about the company. Haithcox runs through a dossier that included complaints from San Antonio, Texas, from Memphis, Tennessee, from St. Louis, Missouri, from Jacksonville, Florida. "They have quite a folder," she says. "We did reach out to them on a number of occasions, but they were not receptive."

According to Fred Rasheed, a former NAACP officer who negotiated most of the fair-share agreements, Dillard's is the only company in the history of the program that the NAACP has divorced itself from.

"I do not like to speak badly of any company," Haithcox says. "However, this company has been consistently poor. I've had personal experience in Georgia, and I swore I'd never go back there again."

Jim Darr of Dillard's national headquarters in Little Rock denies the company ever signed a fair-share agreement with the NAACP. "We agreed to meet and share information," he says. "But it really just died on the vine. We haven't met with them for some time, and I guess they just deleted us."

Asked about the NAACP's view that Dillard's needs to better promote minority relations and hiring, he said: "Well, that's our policy anyway, is to be an equal employment company."

He also says he wasn't familiar with the incident in Mesa, but that the singling out of a particular group for surveillance "is, of course, against our policy. But we have an obligation to protect our merchandise, and we are always mindful of conduct by anybody that appears to be illegal."

But Marquis and Marsell Ector say they weren't doing anything that could have been construed as bordering on illegality. They were just shopping for shoes.

After the incident, they purchased three pairs of shoes at another store in the mall.

"After that happened, we left, too," says Tracy Johnson, who had also planned to buy shoes at Dillard's. "We could tell we were going to be next."

"I'm from back East, New York," says Jose Rey, who also left after witnessing the altercation and bought shoes at Robinson's instead. "I was surprised, that here we're going into the 21st century and they're still doing that kind of stuff.

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