Demonstrators on Tuesday continued to demand the firing of a Rittenhouse Square Starbucks manager whose 911 call led to two African American men who wouldn’t make a purchase being detained by police after they refused to leave the coffeehouse.
Whether the manager is fired is a corporate decision that won’t address the roots of a problem that reveals how pervasive racism remains in America. Nor would it address the heavy-handed police response to a complaint that shouldn’t have ended with two men being arrested for wanting to wait for someone without buying a latte.
How the police reacted is important in a city that too often has allowed race to play a role in criminal justice. District Attorney Larry Krasner, a former defense attorney, in large part owes his victory in November’s election to vowing to change the system. But both Mayor Kenney and Police Commissioner Richard Ross made deferential statements regarding that aspect of the Starbucks arrests.
Kenney noted how “heartbroken” he was that it happened in Philadelphia, but didn’t address the appropriateness of seven officers being ordered to respond to a nonviolent disturbance. Instead, he asked the city’s Commission on Human Relations to examine Starbucks’ “bias training.” (Starbucks announced Tuesday that it will close all its U.S. locations on the afternoon of May 29 to provide bias training to its employees.)
Ross defended his officers, saying the men arrested were asked three times “politely to leave the location … because they were trespassing” and that the officers “had “a legal obligation to carry out their duties. And they did just that.”
What Ross leaves out is that officers do have some discretion in carrying out their duties. Consider when the Eagles won the Super Bowl and only four arrests were made after drunken, celebrating fans flipped a car, dismantled light poles, smashed a Macy’s window, and crumpled an awning at the Ritz-Carlton.
Philadelphia police were praised for showing discretion during the protest-deluged Democratic National Convention two years ago, when they made only 11 arrests over four days while issuing more than 100 citations. Where was that restraint when police responded to the 911 call from Starbucks?
Even Hans Menos, executive director of the so-called watchdog Police Advisory Commission, said it had concluded the police response was correct, but added that “Starbucks and the residents of this city should consider … how police have been used as tools by citizens to perpetuate many social ills – especially racism.”
People should also consider whether some police are racist.
Whether bias played a role in how police responded to a complaint seemingly steeped in racism should be explored. Ross told 6ABC News there will be a review of police policies, “but not so much about that arrest, but how we can facilitate things for other officers in the future, relative to maybe getting signed forms and things like that while they are at the scene.”
Signed forms, really, commissioner? That type of response is why some Philadelphians feared that a cop who spent 28 years rising through the ranks of the city’s police force might be reluctant to criticize fellow officers when they need a kick in the pants for making a bad situation worse. This is one of those times, and the mayor should have your back when you raise your foot.