When two black men were arrested at a Philadelphia Starbucks on Thursday for simply sitting there, being black and minding their business, people in the store who witnessed it were outraged, including Melissa DePino—whose video recording of the arrest went viral on social media.
DePino, a 50-year-old writer who says she visits that same Starbucks every day, spoke exclusively with The Root and said she was appalled by what she witnessed.
DePino was firm in her belief that the story is not about her; it’s about what happened to two innocent black men who were racially profiled.
“They were just sitting there waiting for their friend,” DePino said.
She said a Starbucks employee told the gentlemen that if they didn’t purchase anything, they would have to leave, but DePino said there were people in the store who said they hadn’t purchased anything for hours and they had had no issue.
Still, the employee called the police, because apparently the threat of two black men sitting in the store without purchasing coffee proved too much for her. The employee, of course, was white.
This is just another real-life example of implicit bias.
If you are having a hard time grasping the concept of implicit bias, allow me to explain.
Implicit bias occurs when one’s brain automatically goes to stereotype and views black people as somehow different from white people, and then one acts according to that false concept.
It’s when, as a doctor, you assume that black children in sickle cell crises are more tolerant of pain, so you give them nothing to relieve their suffering.
It’s when you see a child on a playground with a toy, but assume he’s a menace here to destroy.
It’s when fear guides your actions in such a way that you call the police on two black men sitting quietly in a Starbucks before you call them on the white lady yelling at you and telling you that she was told by “AppleCare.”
Implicit bias is when you witness a racist incident at Starbucks, record it and tell your friends what happened, but they still question your version of events and imply that something else must have happened to cause the men to get arrested.
This is what DePino said happened to her.
“So many of my white friends were saying to me, ‘There has to be more to the story than that,’” DePino said. “It’s so frustrating.”
DePino said she was asked by more than one person if it was possible that the men had done something she hadn’t seen; if maybe they had been recognized because they had been to the same Starbucks on a different day and caused trouble; if it was possible she hadn’t seen the entire incident.
“So many people saw what happened,” DePino said. “We all spoke up. We followed the police out of the store. It was crazy.”
DePino said it upsets her that her fellow white people don’t recognize that implicit bias is real.
“It’s like they don’t believe because they don’t see it,” she said.
But the truth is, they do see it. They see it every day. Things happen to black people every single day that would never happen to a white person simply because of implicit bias.
“If I had gone in there and not ordered a drink, they never would have called the police on me,” DePino said.
And she’s right.
Implicit bias is not necessarily always overt, and that makes it easier for people to deny it exists—including the people who participate in it.
The real test is to ask yourself, “Would I have this same reaction if the person were a white man, child or teen?”
Your answer to that question will help you understand your own levels of implicit bias.
And to be clear, implicit bias is not just a white thing. Plenty of black police officers have implicit bias against black people as well. One would think it was a regular part of police training.
Implicit bias makes it easy for the police to be used against black people as a weapon—a deadly weapon, in a lot of cases.
“I feared for my life” is the constant refrain when unarmed black people are gunned down by police. Why is that same fear not present when an actual gunman is being apprehended?
Take Nikolas Cruz or Dylann Roof or James Holmes. All three were implicated in mass shootings that resulted in the deaths of multiple people, and all three were taken into police custody alive and unharmed. They got their day in court.
Police did not see them as some imminent threat against their lives, although these men had just been accused of taking many lives.
That is implicit bias.
Like DePino, white people need to speak up when they see incidents like these happening.
Black people speak up about them all the time, but we are constantly told that we are being “too sensitive” or “exaggerating.”
We aren’t. Implicit bias is real, and we are dying in the streets at the hands of police because of it.
In Philadelphia, two innocent men were perp-walked out of a Starbucks for the crime of not having ordered a $3 cup of coffee. They were humiliated, had their time wasted and, in the end, were ultimately not charged with anything because the district attorney said that there was no evidence a crime had been committed, and because Starbucks declined to prosecute.
The CEO of Starbucks has come forward and said the police never should have been called and the men should not have been arrested. He wants to meet with them and personally apologize. But, honestly, the damage has already been done.
Once again, the police were used as tools of terror against black men who were doing nothing wrong.
Their faces have been shown across social media; images of them in handcuffs being walked out of a Starbucks for the crime of sitting while black have gone viral.
They will never be able to erase that, and even as the truth continues to come out, there will continue to be people who will question the situation and suggest things they could have done to avoid what happened to them.
Because that is exactly how implicit bias works.