Let me hasten to say, what happened at Starbucks in Philadelphia last weekend happens all the time in America, especially to Black men. In this respect there is not much to see here.It’s has happened to me, but not in Starbucks. I don’t go there because the coffee is too expensive for my taste buds.
The fact the two Black men were asked to leave Starbucks in the first place is horrible enough without the taint of bias in the dispatch. What compounds the Starbucks manager’s obvious double standard with regard to who can sit in Starbucks without ordering food or drink is the double standard employed by the Philly Police dispatcher.
It is almost as if the dispatcher knew when the call came in seeking help to expel members of the public from the coffeehouse, that the proprietor was seeking to expel Black patrons.
The dispatcher could reasonably be assured that the unwanted guests were Black because, well, what non-black person would call the cops to have a white person escorted out of their place of business. Based on the racial code observed religiously in America, loitering was never intended to apply to whites.
White people by their very privilege cannot be loiters. They have a right to be anywhere they desire and at any time they desire to be in a particular space.
However, a contrary rule applies to Black people. Blacks can only occupy a space with permission and when asked to leave, they have no recourse, but to leave. The mere refusal, no matter how polite, is an act of disturbance.
The manager’s call clearly says: “Hi, I have two gentlemen in my cafe that are refusing to make a purchase or leave.”
However, the dispatcher does not describe the unwanted guests as “two gentlemen,” to the officers in the field.
The fact the manager describe the two Black men as gentlemen indicates the two men were not causing any trouble beyond refusing to leave.
Rather, the dispatcher makes it appear that a disturbance is taking place. The dispatcher’s exact words were: “we have a disturbance at the Starbucks.”
Then the dispatcher pours more salt on the wound by making it appear to the officers being dispatched to the Starbucks that there was a crowd of people causing the disturbance. The dispatcher says, “a group of males inside causing a disturbance.”
How quickly do you think the officer’s antennas raised after hearing that inflammatory information?
Two is a couple. At a minimum, five makes a group. Admittedly, a group is more problematical than a couple of gentlemen.
I contend the officers approached the Starbucks location in a heightened state of alertness. Their assessment was based upon the information given to them by the dispatcher. Clearly, the dispatcher did not convey to the field officers the information the store manager had related about the nature of the incident.
I’m willing to bet a pretty sum had the dispatcher relayed unbiased information to the officers, this situation would have turned out a whole lot differently.
I applaud Starbucks for their willingness to close their entire operation on May 29 to discuss race.While the manager’s phone call to the police is troubling, the crux of this problem lies with the police.
Perhaps, Starbucks should put on an extra pot of coffee and invite the local Police departments to participate in their discussion on race.
It goes without saying, these type of issues with law enforcement will continue to occur if the police department does not take steps to train their staff to leave their racial biases at the door when clocking into work each day.
What say you?
Harold Michael Harvey is an American novelist and essayist. He is a Contributor at The Hill, SCLC National Magazine, Southern Changes Magazine and Black College Nines. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org