PHILADELPHIA >> The city police commissioner has taken issue with part of a panel’s review of the high-profile arrests of two black men at a Starbucks coffee shop, rejecting its broader conclusion that racism drives contact between citizens and police.
The review of the April arrests at the downtown coffee shop concluded that racial bias may have played a role, and that police need to train officers better to combat implicit, or unconscious, bias.
But the report, released Monday by a citizen advisory commission, also went a step further with a statement about systemic bias that said the department “should accept that racism has a profound effect on what drives citizen and police contact,” the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
In a written response, Commissioner Richard Ross, who is black, said the department recognizes racism exists and has policies in place to combat it. But he added that “we believe the profound effect on what drives citizen and police contact lies in criminal conduct and victimization.”
“Citizens call and contact the police when they need help or a crime has occurred or is perceived to have occurred,” Ross wrote. “We can agree that biases, whether implicit or explicit, may distort the fears and perception of some citizens who call the police to report crimes.”
Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson were arrested within minutes after a manager called police to report that two men were refusing to either make a purchase or leave the premises. They were led off in handcuffs but later released without charges.
Video of the arrest prompted a national outcry and led the CEO of Starbucks to personally apologize to the men. The company also changed store policies, closed shops across the country one afternoon for racial-bias training and reached a settlement with the two men for an undisclosed sum.
For its part, the city agreed to set up a $200,000 program for young entrepreneurs, and the police department adopted a new policy on how to deal with people accused of trespassing on private property — warning businesses against misusing the authority of police officers.
Hans Menos, the police commission’s executive director, said the goal of the review was “to help everyone understand that issues can be nuanced and tinged with race, or affected by race and racism, and the police department, often, is the person at the front lines of all of our issues, and so it’s imperative, or incumbent upon them to understand that, and combat that.”
Ross initially defended the police handling of the incident. But days later he apologized, acknowledging the pain the two men went through and saying policy changes were needed.