Philly Police Chief Cop-splains Why 2 Black Men Were Cuffed in Starbucks Viral Video Incident

Illustration for article titled Philly Police Chief Cop-splains Why 2 Black Men Were Cuffed in Starbucks Viral Video Incident
Photo: Christopher Furlong (Getty Images)

Police across the country just can’t seem to break out of their M.O. of enforcing and reinforcing this country’s long-standing, irrational fear of black bodies.


As noted in a recent VSB column, black people are pretty much criminalized for breathing in the United States (that, and standing, sitting, sleeping, walking and 45 some other odd “things”).

Latest case in point: On Thursday, two black real estate agents in Philadelphia were cuffed and led out of a Starbucks—the epitome of loitering space—because employees at the store called the police after the men allegedly wanted to use the bathroom but did not buy anything.

A white barista apparently pulled rank and called the police, one of the most dangerously aggressive things one can do to a black person in America.

After members of the Philadelphia Police Department arrived, the two men were actually perp-walked out of the store, their only crime seemingly having the audacity to violate a tony white space in Philly’s Rittenhouse Square neighborhood.

Melissa DePino, who captured the incident on video, said that the two young men were waiting for a friend, who actually showed up as they were being arrested. DePino ran it all down in a tweet about the incident:

The police were called because these men hadn’t ordered anything. They were waiting for a friend to show up, who did as they were taken out in handcuffs for doing nothing. All the other white ppl are wondering why it’s never happened to us when we do the same thing.


The two black men—both bearded, one with cornrows—were mostly silent when multiple officers arrived to slap handcuffs on them.

Their white compatriots, however, questioned the police about the arrests (something for which said two black men most assuredly would have been punished).


“What did they do?” one man incredulously asks of the police.

“They didn’t do anything; I saw the entire thing,” another person said.

After Twitter went off, Starbucks tweeted to users Friday night saying that it was aware of the events, and later issued a statement apologizing to the two men. The men were later released from jail after Starbucks declined to prosecute.


After an initial tweet saying that the police were investigating, the PPD’s African-American police commissioner later in the day vehemently defended his officers’ actions in a Facebook Live post.

“They did a service that they were called to do,” Police Commissioner Richard Ross said. “And if you think about it logically, that if a business calls and they say that ‘Someone is here that I no longer wish to be in my business,’ [officers] now have a legal obligation to carry out their duties. And they did just that.”


Question: Does it take six of them to do it?

Ross later added that the two men taunted the cops, saying that they only make $45,000 a year, and then this: “As an African-American male, I am very aware of implicit bias.” He also noted that PPD rookies are sent to the Holocaust Memorial and African American History and Culture museums in D.C. to help them understand the oppressed (I guess). Ross also said that anything less than “fair and unbiased policing ... will not be tolerated in this department.”



Last question: A show of hands for all those who think this would never have happened to two white men sitting in a Starbucks in an affluent neighborhood, regardless of what they bought or did not buy?


Right, we didn’t think so. Neither does Philadelphia’s Mayor Jim Kenney, who said that the incident “appears to exemplify what racial discrimination looks like in 2018.”

Stay tuned to The Root as Monique Judge publishes her exclusive interview with witness Melissa DePino on Sunday:


Ms. Bronner Helm is the Senior Editorial Director at Colorlines. Mouthy Black Girl. Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Fellow. Shea Butter Feminist. Virgo Sun, Aries Moon.



“They did a service that they were called to do,”

Oh, yeah, black removal service.