The executive director of the civilian oversight board for Philadelphia police said Monday that the officers involved in the arrest of two black men at a Rittenhouse Square-area Starbucks last week appeared to act “in accordance with the law” and Starbucks employees “broke no laws either” — but he did note the obvious undercurrent race was playing in the explosive case.
“Starbucks and the residents of this city should consider if their handling would have been different if the subjects were not two black men,” Hans Menos, the director of the Police Advisory Commission, said in a statement. “They should consider how police have been used as tools by citizens to perpetuate many social ills – especially racism.”
The officers and police supervisor who responded “should consider the same issues,” he said.
Menos’ statement came amid protests and a national spotlight trained on the city, the coffeehouse chain and its store at 18th and Spruce streets.
He said the agency’s conclusions were based on a report it received Monday from the police, as well as Police Commissioner Richard Ross’ statements on Facebook on Saturday, videos of the incident posted on social media, and a phone conversation he had with Starbucks’ general counsel on Sunday night.
“Given the information disclosed it seems clear that the responding officers, in this case, did not violate the current policies which guide their work and acted in accordance with the law,” Menos said in a statement. “… Further, it seems that the men who were ultimately arrested in this incident may not have been legally justified to be in Starbucks once they refused to make a purchase and did not leave when asked by both the store management and police.”
In the statement, Menos wrote that while it seems no laws were broken by the officers or the store employees, “we cannot discount the likelihood that the race of these men played an integral part in the precipitation and overall outcome of this incident.”
“What we know is that black men in this city and nationwide experience disproportionate contact with the police and the criminal justice system,” he wrote. “We also know that this contact often occurs despite the fact that they do not disproportionately engage in crime or the violation of social norms.”
Menos added that “this recent incident seems to be another example of the minefield that is societal and institutional racism.”
The agency said it is looking to review any more video that’s available and seeks to interview the citizens and responding officers who were present at the store when the incident occurred, around 4:40 p.m. Thursday.
Menos took over as head of the citizen watchdog group in October. A social worker, he came to Philadelphia from New York, where he helped place, train, and supervise more than 100 victim advocates inside police precincts in New York City, when he worked for an organization called Safe Horizon.