Philadelphia’s police commissioner, who’s Black, rejected a report released on Monday that said police racial bias was instrumental in the controversial arrest of two Black men at Starbucks in April. However, many studies point to implicit bias as an ongoing policing problem.
The Police Advisory Commission, comprised of a citizen oversight board, urged police officials to improve officer implicit bias training, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
“The goal for us 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,” said Hans Menos, executive director of the commission.
That didn’t go over well with Philadelphia Commission Richard Ross, who pointed out in a statement that his department bans racially biased policing.
“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,” he stated, shifting the blame to citizens who call the police for help.
Social media users viewed a video of the arrest, which prompted nationwide outrage, more than 10 million times.
It shows officers arresting two Black men who did nothing wrong except decline to make a purchase while they waited for a business associate to arrive. When they refused to leave, a store manager called the police, who led them out of the store in handcuffs. No charges were filed, and Starbucks profusely apologized for the incident. Starbucks also closed its stores in May for an afternoon of employee anti-bias training.
Studies have determined that suspicion and fear of Black men underpin police brutality and make for disproportionate arrests. Unconsciously, white people perceive Black men as larger and more threatening than white men of the same build, according to the American Psychological Association.
Stereotypes of Black men as habitual criminals and dangerous people are reinforced through the media, the American Bar Association said. A national survey found that whites overestimated the percentage of Blacks involved in burglaries, drug sales and juvenile crime by up to 30 percent.
Police officers bring those attitudes with them, often unconsciously, when policing Black communities. Police departments across the nation are struggling to help their officers eliminate their bias.