Mayor Kenney: We cannot allow the Starbucks incident to define Philadelphia | Opinion

Police officers stand Monday outside the Starbucks at 18th and Spruce Streets where two black men were arrested.

 

The incident at the Center City Starbucks on April 12 painfully exposed the deep-rooted issue of implicit bias that lies at the core of race relations in 2018.

That pain was evident in the video, on the faces of Donte Robinson and Rashon Nelson as they were led out of the store in handcuffs simply because they chose to wait for a friend without making a purchase.

The pain was loud and clear this past week as protesters marched and others shared their stories, voicing their anguish over a system that has, for too long, put people of color at greater risk simply because of the color of their skin.

And the pain was also sharply defined on the face of Police Commissioner Richard Ross, who courageously stood before microphones on Thursday and described how the anger expressed by many caused him to reflect further on the arrests, and on the larger context of race relations in our city and our society.

But what do we do with that pain?  The Philadelphia I know is a diverse city that is welcoming to all. We cannot allow what happened inside the Starbucks to define us.

I am committed to helping all Philadelphians move toward a better understanding of all perspectives, and toward change that will ensure we never face this heartbreaking reality again. Here is some of what we are doing:

  • The Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations (PCHR) has issued a formal request for a series of documents from Starbucks regarding its policies and practices. PCHR will analyze the information to see if there are intentional or unintentional discriminatory consequences to those policies and practices, and to determine what improvements can be made to ensure that such an incident does not happen again.
  • At the Police Department, an Internal Affairs Division investigation of how the incident itself was handled at all levels is underway.
  • A separate PPD policy review has already determined that the force has no specific policy regarding the crime of “Defiant Trespass,” aside from Pennsylvania statutes. A new policy regarding police response to calls for “Defiant Trespass” has been drafted, and is in the final stages of review.
  • The Police Advisory Commission (PAC) continues to work with the PPD to arrange for interviews with officers involved and to access the data requested. PAC is also working with the PCHR to identify and move forward on shared priorities throughout this process.

I am grateful to all of these departments for their leadership and quick action.

  • Commissioner Ross and my administration continue to work with the ACLU, with the oversight of a federal judge, on the larger question of pedestrian stops.  Thanks to the commissioner’s internal reforms, we have seen progress: The number of pedestrian stops conducted in the city has dropped 50 percent from 2015 to 2017, along with a similar decrease in the percentage of pedestrian stops conducted without reasonable suspicion.  In addition, we remain committed to addressing any issues surrounding racial disparities in the pedestrian stops conducted in Philadelphia.
  • City Council introduced a resolution calling for a hearing to examine the effectiveness of implicit bias training. Sponsored by Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, the hearing will examine best practices around the development and implementation of such training.
  • Our criminal justice reform efforts remain focused on avoiding unnecessary incarcerations and reducing the racial, ethnic, and economic disparities of our inmate population. As a result, the city’s overall incarcerated population has decreased 32 percent since July 2015. The population stands currently at just under 5,500, the lowest it has been in 20 years.
  • The declining prison population led to our decision — announced last week — to close the House of Correction. Reaching the point where we can shutter this facility is a milestone and a testament to the productive partnership among all our criminal justice partners and to the national support we’ve received from the MacArthur Foundation.

In the glare of an international spotlight, Philadelphia is hurting. But I am convinced that years from now, when we look back on what happened on April 12, 2018, we will see that race relations have since improved thanks to the many actions we’re undertaking now.  We will know that the actions led to dialogue, to reexamined perspectives, and to lasting improvements in how we as Philadelphians treat one another.

This pain can lead to progress.

Jim Kenney is mayor of Philadelphia. @PhillyMayor