After three young black men were falsely accused of theft while shopping at a Nordstrom Rack in Missouri, the company's president, Geevy Thomas, will fly to St. Louis to personally apologize to the trio.
Mekhi Lee, Dirone Taylor and Eric Rogers II were shopping for prom last Thursday, May 3, at the store's Brentwood location when they noticed store employees were closely watching and following them, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.
“At that point, we moved to a farther part of the store,” Lee said. He said they continued to be followed.
"[I felt] nervous, and like I couldn’t be there," he said.
Lee sought advice from his mother, Twyla Lee, who told him to talk to the manager of the store. But the store's manager reportedly never made an effort to speak with him or the others. Then, an elderly woman who had no prior involvement in the situation, called one of the young patrons a "punk."
The woman reportedly asked, "Are your parents proud of you for what you do?"
Local news outlet CBS St. Louis affiliate KMOV-TV reports the woman and the group of young patrons got into a heated altercation, prompting the manager to finally step in.
“When she called us a 'punk,' and she didn’t have anything to do with the situation, everyone in the store is against us looking at us crazy, (and) we didn’t do anything,” Lee said. “I was totally embarrassed, and we’re the only ones defending ourselves against everyone in the store.”
Tensions rose, and the trio said they left the store after buying a few items to prove a point. As they began walking toward parking lot, they noticed police cars approaching.
Authorities told them during the encounter that they received a call about three people shoplifting from the store. To clear their name, the trio showed the officers their receipts and the items they purchased. Police allowed them to leave without further incident.
“The police let us [tell] our story,” Lee said. “The police did their job. They also read us the police report where Nordstrom [Rack] said we had stolen several items.”
Questions still remain around the situation. Almost a week since the incident, the group wants to know why police were called on them.
“The experience these young men went through is not an isolated incident for African-American males in St. Louis or this country,” Adolphus Pruitt, St. Louis NAACP president, said. “Finding a way to prevent incidents like this from happening in the future has to be the mission of all of us ... these things do not need to happen.”
Nordstrom Rack has apologized in a statement for escalating the situation. There will also be a joint effort between the store and the NAACP to prevent these incidents from happening.
"We did not handle this situation well and we apologized to these young men and their families," the company said. "We want all customers to feel welcome when they shop with us and we do not tolerate discrimination of any kind."