Starbucks gets it, but police commissioner doesn’t


May 10, 2018

Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson plans to close more than 8,000 U.S. locations on May 29 to conduct racial-bias training in an effort to prevent discrimination in his stores.

After initially defending his officers’ actions, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross has apologized to Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, the two black men who were arrested while waiting for a business meeting at a Philadelphia Starbucks.

I am not comforted by Ross’ apology. The commissioner admittedly stated he made the situation worse when he initially defended his officers’ actions, yet Ross still contends that “race did not play a role in the officers’ actions.”

Ross, who is black, did what we have seen other police administrators do when one of their own acts out of order; circle the wagons, try to explain the inexplicable and attempt to protect his department.

While Ross has promised to enact policy change for his officers going forward when dealing with “defiant trespass,” the question that begs to be answered is, “Will this change include sensitivity training and a common-sense approach to dealing with the minority community?”

Commissioner Ross, you do understand that there is a distinct difference between enforcing the “letter of the law” versus the “spirit of the law?”

Apparently, Commissioner Ross serves at the pleasure of the Mayor Jim Kenney, whom undoubtedly had a little something to do with Ross finding the need to “articulate his changed perspective.”

Naturally, “no charges were filed” against the men. That is often the case when police officers abuse their authority and act with impunity. Police officers have tremendous autonomy in the discharge of their duties.

In an instance like the one involving Nelson and Robinson, the officers certainly had options. Unfortunately, common sense did not prevail. I always say if sense was common, everybody would have it.

Thankfully, the young men in this situation did not lose their lives. But an apology is insufficient.

Officers don’t start off by being over-zealous. Perhaps the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations should conduct a personnel review of the two involved officers’ history in dealing with the minority community. It is important to ensure that there aren’t more problems. Is there a pattern of this type of behavior?

As a retired 20-year veteran police officer/supervisor (sergeant), a black woman and mother of sons, it is my hope that whatever Starbucks employee training, police policy changes by Commissioner Ross and review by the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations come from this unfortunate incident, that corporations and police departments will use this teachable moment to ensure a respectful, dignified response to and a better cultural understanding of the communities in which they find themselves situated.

Cheryl Dorsey, a retired LAPD sergeant, is the author of her autobiography “Black and Blue, The Creation of A Manifesto. Her column runs the second Thursday of each month in The Wave. For more information, visit www.sgtcheryldorsey.com and follow her on Twitter @sgtcheryldorsey.

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