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Store accused of racial profiling

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DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) — Some shoppers at Fairlane Town Center say personal experience leaves no doubt that a man who died during a struggle with mall security guards was targeted because he was black.

"It's something about Dearborn," said Detroit resident Patrece Dates, 29. "I don't feel comfortable in Dearborn."

Dates, who is black, said mall security guards often follow her as she shops.

About 10,000 protesters led by the Rev. Al Sharpton rallied Wednesday outside the Lord & Taylor mall store where Frederick Finley died. Some carried signs with messages such as "Racism is alive and well. We kill for $4 in Michigan."

No charges have been filed in the June 22 death. The 32-year-old was in the store with friends and family when surveillance cameras allegedly recorded some members of the group shoplifting. Security guards accused Finley's 11-year-old stepdaughter of stealing a $4 bracelet.

The guards followed the group to the parking lot and tried to detain Finley's stepdaughter and a family friend. Finley punched one of the guards before he was put in a choke hold, according to the police report.

Two autopsies showed Finley died of asphyxia due to suffocation.

At least some of the guards who were involved are black. Protesters accused Lord & Taylor of having black security workers watch minority shoppers to avoid the appearance of discrimination or racial profiling.

Store spokeswoman LaVelle Olexa declined comment, citing an ongoing police investigation and a $600 million lawsuit by Finley's family against the store's parent, May Department Stores Co.

"It's a major problem in the malls or suburbs, where African-Americans feel they're suspect the minute they walk into a store," he said. "Every once in a while, there's a high-profile case like this one which raises awareness of the problem."

He said he was not aware of any such complaints relating to Fairlane or its Lord & Taylor store before Finley's death.

About 0.4 percent of Dearborn's 89,286 residents are black, according to the 1990 U.S. Census. Many of Fairlane's customers are black, many coming from mostly black Detroit.

Rhodia Gill, 31, said she usually feels scrutinized while she shops in Fairlane but that feeling is not isolated to Dearborn. She said Finley "didn't deserve to die in the parking lot."

"I think if he would have been a white man or a man of a different culture, they would have handled the situation better," said 28-year-old Katrina Anderson of Detroit, who is black. "It's just sad about what they did to him in front of his kids and his family."

In a news conference before the protest, Sharpton demanded action in resolving the matter.

"I asked the chief of police, if I lay down in front of Lord & Taylor tonight, would he arrest me. He said, 'Absolutely.' But a man can be choked to death in front of Lord & Taylor, and we're waiting on what?"

Wayne County assistant prosecutor Kevin Simowski said Wednesday that prosecutors are reviewing the matter.