Black teen's arrest at Philadelphia Zoo spurs review of protocols

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A white public safety officer and a black public safety officer at the zoo argue (left image) as Philadelphia police arrest a 14-year-old boy on July 5. In the right image, police lift the handcuffed boy from the ground.

The Philadelphia Zoo is reviewing its protocols on conflict de-escalation following the arrest of a black teenager this month that was captured on video and raised questions about why police were involved.

“Philadelphia Zoo officials have met with a number of community and civic leaders, neighborhood groups, and other citizens over the past two weeks to discuss the incident that occurred on July 5,” zoo spokesperson Dana Lombardo said. “We have already begun work to identify a partner or partners to help us develop additional training to advance our staff’s existing skills in communication and conflict deescalation, building on current procedures for a thorough and comprehensive program.”

The incident occurred when a zoo public safety officer asked a group of boys to leave the plaza outside the zoo’s gates near 34th Street and Girard Avenue. The boys, Lombardo said, had thrown rocks at a zoo staff member the day prior and had often solicited money in the plaza. People who commented on a video of the arrest — which was posted on Facebook and has received more than 300,000 views — said the boys sold water there.

praying for my black young men out here….these kids was just trying to make money for their football team 😢😢😢

Posted by Dominique Davis on Thursday, July 5, 2018

The group began to leave, Lombardo said, but made a “threatening remark” to one of the zoo’s safety officers, who then flagged down a Philadelphia police cruiser that was driving by.

The zoo did not detail what the alleged remark was or whether the arrested boy, 14, who was cited for disorderly conduct, was behind it.

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In the video of the arrest, a black zoo public safety officer shouts at a white public safety officer believed to have flagged down police.

“This is what you did!” the black safety officer yells at the white safety officer as police hold the boy facedown on the ground and try to put him in handcuffs. “This is what you want. Is this what you want?”

“I only asked him to move!” the white safety officer shouts back. “I asked him to move.”

Lombardo said the safety officer who flagged down police wanted help dispersing the group. She said the interaction between police and the group “unexpectedly” led to the boy’s arrest.

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The incident at the zoo has drawn comparisons to other cases in which white people alerted police to black people or viewed them as threats. Last month, about 10 police officers confronted a black family over a minor dispute with white staff at a West Philadelphia movie theater. Police blamed a radio miscommunication on the large response; the family said it was racial profiling. No one was arrested.

In various U.S. cities this year, videos have also captured white people calling police on a black girl selling bottles of water, black men barbecuing in a park, a black woman sleeping in a dorm common room, and, in Philadelphia, black men sitting at a Starbucks.